Thanksgiving Dinner Conversation: A Recipe For Peace And Grace

Thanksgiving dinner conversation is predicted to be especially strained this year. Some people are struggling to find anything to be thankful for. Most are trying to put together a defense for their financial failures, lack of employment, underemployment, outspoken political views, lifestyle choices, and perhaps even crimes, or mistakes in recent years. Stop preparing a defense. There is a better way.

Thanksgiving dinner preparation, from roasting a turkey or perhaps glazing a big dinner ham, down to the fruit salad, sweet potato pie and delicious candied yams, is a daunting task, even for the most proficient of old time cooks, but for most modern Americans, accustomed to frying a few burgers for their kids, the Thanksgiving preparation of dinner for an extended family can be extremely challenging.

Thanksgiving dinner preparation is a major accomplishment that should be rewarded with compliments and friendly conversation, not disagreements. The last thing those sweet mothers need on their big culinary skills building day is an argument around their sacred Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner conversation is supposed to be idyllic and perhaps that is the problem. Everyone visualizes the perfect Thanksgiving celebration going on right next door, or perhaps down the block. Unfortunately, nearly every individual is stuck in some kind of personal purgatory within their own family’s conversation. Some are hoping their sisters won’t notice their kid’s clothing is second hand from a thrift store. Others are hoping no one remembers their controversial blog posts. Perhaps a few are hoping to ask for money or loans.

The best advice is to lay down your arms, put away defenses and pick up empathy. Realize that nearly everyone at the dinner table is in the same state of preparedness for defense, not offense. No one intends to be offensive in their conversation, they are just being preemptively defensive.

In a Thanksgiving dinner conversation, if one person is uncomfortable then chances are most of those sitting at the same dinner table are too. No one is alone in the awkward feeling of failure or a sense of having different views than those around them. Everyone has a hot button issue or a chip on their shoulder about something. So, yes it might be a conversation minefield, but it’s a minefield for everyone.

Around the Thanksgiving dinner table are relatives and friends who love each other. In all conversations, it’s important to focus on what each person means to you and what each one might be going through. Forbes quoted Marcel Proust in their Thanksgiving article.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

At the Thanksgiving dinner table may be people struggling with their financial situations, addictions, mental disorders, or frightening health issues. They may be unemployed, or they may be facing incredible pressures at work. They may be charged up by current events or struggling with their own personal events. It is up to each individual to stop the defense and reach out in a genuinely loving way that disarms all the defenses.

Anticipating Thanksgiving dinner conversation in 2016 is making a lot of people feel defensive. It usually does. Some families are not as close-knit or ideologically or socioeconomically similar and may feel defensive about their socioeconomic status, their political views, their lifestyles, or their personal habits.

In The Kitchen On Thanksgiving
In The Kitchen On Thanksgiving [Image by Ryan McVay/Thinkstock by Getty]

Thanksgiving dinner conversation and preparation for the big day is a huge focus in 2016. Some relatives are finding themselves uninvited from Thanksgiving celebrations due to varying views, according to USA Today. People are actually afraid of the volatility at the dinner table. Is this how a family should be? While it isn’t ideal, it beats having a fight perhaps, and there is always next year. Still, it seems rash and hurtful to those excluded.

2016 Thanksgiving dinner conversation, according to a CNBC poll, should steer clear of politics and finance. While nearly a quarter expect these subjects to come up, nearly one-third agree they shouldn’t and hope they don’t.

While preparing the Thanksgiving meal and getting ready for that Thanksgiving dinner conversation, it is important to remember that 2016, and maybe the entire 21st century, has been rough for some people and perhaps not for others. Financial goals and personal goals have not been achieved and that leads to feeling defensive.

Thanksgiving Dinner in the 50s by Evans Getty
Thanksgiving Dinner in the 50s Image by Evans/Getty Images]

A Thanksgiving dinner table can be populated by rich and poor. Those hardest hit by the current economic depression may feel resentful and defensive. Near economic collapse has stricken some geographic areas and left other locations untouched and different professions and age groups have been impacted to different degrees. Perhaps, it is best not to brag while being thankful for financial blessings. Others may take it as criticism.

The Thanksgiving dinner conversation is an opportunity and a blessing. It should not be a chore. Be thankful for family, friends and the bountiful Thanksgiving table even if it seems meager. Be genuinely thankful for each person at the dinner table. Remember how much you love them, despite any petty differences. Perhaps, it would be a good idea to find the time to quietly and genuinely thank each of them for something they have done for you.

The Thanksgiving dinner conversation and the Thanksgiving prayer should focus on the simple pleasures of being with loved ones. Be loving and focus on genuine feelings of affection. Be compassionate to those who may be suffering various personal tragedies and failures. Henry Jacobson was quoted in Forbes this season.

“Praise God even when you don’t understand what He is doing.”

In preparing for Thanksgiving dinner conversation, stop rehearsing defense. No one is on trial. It is Thanksgiving, just be thankful. Don’t spend hours ruminating about how to defend your point of view, no matter what it may be. Instead, drop the defense and concentrate on disarming the conversation, not defending yourself. Psych Central explains the problem with being defensive under the title, “The Worst Offense is a Good Defense.” The title says it all really. Being defensive is really offensive.

The Thanksgiving dinner conversation often centers around everyone’s defense that is often taken as an offense by the others who are also being offensive by defending. No defense is worth hurting family a member, who only wants to defend his thoughts, words, and actions too. Psych Central offers a bite of Thanksgiving empathy pie for those who defend by criticizing.

“No one, however, likes to be criticized. No one likes hearing how they are disappointing the person they love. No one likes feeling blamed, misunderstood or under-appreciated. And so a lot of us are experts in defense.”

If Thanksgiving dinner conversation should lead to a family member defending or just opening up about their feelings, don’t defend in response. Find the grace, love, and acceptance to listen with compassion and understanding. Embrace them, and try to see from their point of view. It isn’t easy, though, as Psych Central emphasizes.

“Be prepared, however, for a bumpy road forward. Dismantling our defenses is ridiculously hard work. Even if the feedback is given in a reasonably respectful way… our defensive patterns are deeply ingrained.”

If Thanksgiving dinner conversation leads someone who has been under pressure to explode into some self-defensive rant or regress into a frustrated child, it is OK. Don’t placate or invalidate their pain. Don’t try to one-up them either, or say someone else has it worse. Above all, don’t walk out on them. Just listen with love, and a hug once they’ve cooled down.

Thanksgiving dinner conversation is no place for criticism. It isn’t the time to defensively explain one’s self either. Thanksgiving is the time and place to be thankful for all blessings, but especially the blessing of family, friends, and loved ones. These people around the dinner table are important. They are the VIPs, and deep down, families love each other. Remember that above all.


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Thanksgiving dinner conversation should focus on being grateful, but not gratitude for material acquisition unless it is universal to all those at the dinner table. The first Thanksgiving meal was made up of those who survived the hard winter due to the charity of Native Americans. It was also a remembrance, no doubt, of those who did not survive. It was a celebration of limited success after a lot of very hard work.

Thanksgiving dinner conversation in 2016 may have more in common with that day than with the previous years. Perhaps, it is a good time to recognize that even meager progress or just barely breaking even is cause for tremendous celebration. If there is genuine love between family, heartfelt generosity and mutual care, then all the offensive defense can just fade away. Family and loved ones are a lot to be thankful for.

Base Thanksgiving dinner conversation on compassion, empathy, and love of family, and forget about that grandstanding defense.

[Featured Image by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images]