Mind Your Manners

I remember Thanksgiving as a kid, like so many other families we would visit my grandparents. My grandfather would pray before the meal and his prayer would usually end, “keep us mindful of whose we are and whom we serve”. He would then sit down and intentionally ask questions designed to stir the rest of us up. It reminds me that so many people want to know what to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner. There is a recognition in our society that many topics are off limits on Thanksgiving because of their controversial nature and a desire to keep the peace at table.

I recognize this difficulty, and there are times when I too need to simply remain quiet at Thanksgiving because the topic at hand will cause flashpoints. But I think back to my grandfather’s prayer and the way he engaged conversations, and I recognize that the problem is not always what to talk about, but how to talk about the subjects. I think one solution to the issue that so many have finding topics of conversation at Thanksgiving is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a discipline staying aware of the situation in the moment it is happening. My grandfather’s prayer was always that we would be mindful of being Christian, that is aware of the fact that we were to emulate Jesus at all times. I think back to the conversations around his table and I see where that prayer was answered, even on divisive subjects people were able to talk with a measure of love and grace.

Yes, being mindful of a situation will invariably lead people to abandon certain subjects in certain company. After all, discretion is the better part of valor. Further mindfulness is not something that one can craft in a day. We cannot expect to suddenly be more aware of situations because we need to keep peace today. Rather mindfulness is a discipline that needs to be crafted and honed over a period of time. One cannot expect to suddenly be more aware in a given situation, and thus better prepared to handle controversial subjects. But there are a few tricks that people can use that might help ease tensions.

We might not be experts in mindfulness, but that does not mean that we have to abandon all intelligent or difficult conversations. I find that simply pausing for somewhat extended periods of time helps me to both restrain my emotions and craft a reply. This is part of the mindfulness that I have learned to bring into these situations. Intentionally taking longer to respond can go a long way toward helping people stay calm and in control. Taking one’s time in replying to an individual can also give the impression of some expertise, especially when paired with the right tones of voice. The second thing that I often use is tone of voice. This might take some practice but focusing on keeping a level tone of voice and remaining soft-spoken can often help when one is uncomfortable. Again this becomes easier when we learn to slow down the conversation but focusing on an even quiet voice can keep a conversation civilized. Humans have a natural tendency to match an opponent’s conversation level. By remaining quiet, you are encouraging everyone to remain at that level. These trips will not cute Thanksgiving, unless perhaps everyone there has read this blog. Better yet, make these ideas sound like your own so everyone will see you as the expert who should not be messed with this Thanksgiving.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving everyone!

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