How to keep politics from spoiling this year’s Thanksgiving feast

May 27, 2024 | Psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig talks to WTOP about holiday discussions

WASHINGTON — As families and friends gather to enjoy delicious Thanksgiving feasts, etiquette and health experts warn discussion of politics at the table often results in indigestion.

This year, some people are trying to avoid ruining their meal with political discussions. A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows nearly one-third of all adults will actively avoid political conversations with friends and family during Thanksgiving and December holidays.

The poll showed 62 percent of respondents chose politics as their least favorite conversation topic at family gatherings, with money, religion and family gossip more than 20 percentage points behind.

But before you hide your nerves behind another plate of mashed potatoes or another drink, psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig said it’s important to mentally prepare yourself and be realistic about your expectations.

“We kind of get caught up in this romanticized version of what the holidays should look like,” Ludwig told WTOP. Remember that disagreements are a natural part of holiday gatherings.

And when it comes to politics, “No one is convincing anyone,” Ludwig said.

So, what do you do? She advised, “The best thing to do is not to challenge somebody, because you’re not going to convince them, and to just listen, almost with a therapeutic ear. ‘Oh, that’s interesting’ or, ‘what makes you think that?’ Or, ‘what made you come to that conclusion?'”

If you must share your point of view, Ludwig said it’s safer to share it with like-minded people to keep the discord to a minimum. Stick to “neutral topics” such as the weather or sports, or maybe get someone talking about their vacation plans, or their kids’ progress in school or personal goals, Ludwig said.

Etiquette expert Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and co-president of the Emily Post Institute, also offered suggestions for hosts who want to keep politics from turning conversations — and stomachs — sour.

Some family members seem to feed on the divisiveness of polarizing political discussion.

Post told USA Today it would be appropriate for a host to speak to an individual guest or family member and say, “I know we’ve had great political conversations in the past, but this year, I really don’t want to engage in politics.”

If the topic comes up at the table, Post suggested a gentle deflection, rather than saying, “I don’t want to hear that kind of talk.”

“It doesn’t have to be amazingly smooth; just pick something that you know the person you’re talking to could speak about, and encourage them to talk on that topic,” Post said.

If the person continues talking about politics even after you’ve tried to change the subject, Post said it’s OK to ask the person, “Why are you concerned about getting me to agree?” You can also say, “I’d be happy to talk about this another day with you.”

Post said some families love political debate.

If your family likes to spar, “go for it,” Post said, but most people “just want to eat some turkey and watch some football or a movie as a family.”

WTOP’s Teta Alim contributed to this story. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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