How to Keep an Open Mind (and Avoid Fighting) Around the Holiday Dinner Table
Your well-meaning brother loves to read alternative news websites. Your cranky great uncle doesn’t understand today’s gender norms. Your college best friend still doesn’t get this whole self-improvement journey you’re on and would prefer to finish that box of wine.
The holiday season often includes one too many holiday dinners where you’re forced to come face to face with that relative or that idea that simply gets under your skin and irks you. Despite the best intentions to ban politics and other hot topics from the dinner table, it’s inevitable that something will come up (especially after one too many egg nogs!).
Keep your cool, diffuse the tension and learn how to maintain a calm, serene open mind no matter what comes up this Christmas season. Think of the dinner table as the universe’s gym, and you’re flexing your mindfulness muscles and practicing skills that will serve you all year long.
If you want to keep an open mind and stay rooted in a place of secure peace and grounded reality, try these strategies today.
1. Neither Fight Nor Flight
When someone brings up an opinion that you find repulsive, offensive or frustrating, it’s easy to give in to our nervous system’s natural “fight or flight” inclination. You might want to immediately react in anger and voice your opinion, or you might want to throw in the dinner napkin and leave the room.
Before doing either, give your conscious mind a chance to overcome your subconscious. Take a deep breath (or two) and count to five. This is often enough of a buffer zone to calmly redirect your attention and think carefully about your response.
2. Try to Be a Little Color Blind
Everything isn't always black or white, or in the case of the holidays, green or red. Our life experiences are full of different shades and hues, and it's important to know how our own perspectives, experiences and upbringing colors our perspective. Know that whatever the hot topic is, you might not know all the details. You might not have all the answers. You might even be wrong!
And even if you’re “right,” you still might be missing key perspectives or pieces of information. The picture is always incomplete. Knowing this can help you to give a little more grace to the other person (and to yourself).
3. Understand the Alternative
One of the easiest options for us when faced with a disagreement or a social hot topic that gets under our skin is to close ourselves off. It’s easy to surround ourselves with like-minded friends and follow like-minded websites and social media accounts. But no one benefits from building walls, and by withdrawing, you rob the world of its opportunities to learn from your own journey.
When at a dinner or family gathering, don’t shy away from those awkward conversations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Why do they think such-and-such? Where did they get their information about that political matter? Why do they think that religious or political move is a good idea?
When asking questions, avoid the urge to respond right away. Practicing openness starts with being a better listener and engaging with those ideas.
As you work on understanding and even empathizing with your cranky great uncle or your opinionated neighbor, your openness invites them to always understand your viewpoint in a safe, non-confrontational way.
Before you know it, you’re all having a calm, respectful dialogue without anyone throwing the Christmas ham across the table.