Don’t Let Current Events Divide Your Family This Holiday Season

Seven steps to having crucial conversations at your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners

Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner (photo: Ms. Jones / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0)

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)

Are current events causing division among your family and friends? We are heading into the holiday season and we want to keep the peace. News stories and other current event topics are bound to surface at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables and perhaps while enjoying the coffee and cake to cap off the night. 

How do we engage in these crucial conversations without clamming up or blowing up? Al Kresta of Ave Maria radio reminds us that we need to look at the issues from the lens of a Catholic. We are also called to communicate as a Christian and we do that by being centered on Christ. Here are seven strategies to implement while engaging in crucial conversations. 

1. Tame Your Tongue: I had a temper growing up. My father used to always say to me, “You know, Vanessa, no one cares what you have to say if you don’t know how to say it.” Many topics today cause our emotions to get the best of us. We must first tame our tongue. Start by asking the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation. A prayer I have recited for years is: “Dear Lord, give me the words you know other people need to hear.” I pray this before I host any radio or television show. We want to enter into a dialogue, not a monologue that might lead into an argument. Read Scripture every day as well. Knowing truth in Scripture will help you enter these conversations with peace, charity and love. 

2. Seek to Understand: We must first try to meet people where they are at on their faith journey. If we truly want unity in our families and this country, we must first to try to understand the other person. How did our friends or family come to believe what they believe today? Each person has a story to tell. Try to understand the person’s journey by asking for her story. 

3. Ask Questions: We start to understand someone by asking questions. I have question-guided conversations with my coaching clients regularly. This is how I help people close gaps, reach goals and have those “Epiphany” moments. So, when you are engaging in these hot topic conversations, seek to understand the other person by asking questions such as: What led you to this conclusion? How do come to this understanding? What are your biggest concerns?

4. Share Data: Doing research is critical for us to truly understand what is going on. Read the research, talk to the experts and share what you have learned with others. Often when I am talking to someone about abortion, for example, the first thing the person will mention to me are victims of rape and incest. This point is a good place to start, because you can share data on how that group of women attributes to a small percentage of abortions today. It’s been reported that just 1% of women obtain an abortion because they became pregnant through rape, and less than 0.5% do so because of incest, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That is important data and it can contribute to a fruitful conversation. 

5. Tell a Story: Share a personal experience regarding the topic at hand. People often remember the story before they remember the point you are making or the story helps them remember the point. Share a story about yourself, or maybe someone you know who relates to the conversation. We need to start personalizing these issues so we can better relate to one another. 

6. Create a Safe Space: People want to feel comfortable and safe sharing their thoughts and beliefs. We need to find the common ground. Remember, we don’t want people to clam up or blow up. We continue with asking questions, sharing data and telling stories to keep the conversation flowing. Create an environment that is welcoming. We do this by not judging or attacking the other person. Listen first then share truth in Scripture, facts and your story. 

7. Encourage Follow Up: We can’t share what we don’t have, and we can’t make real decisions without the right information. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and understand the Church’s teachings on these issues. Encourage people to learn more, to do research and to seek truth. Remember to look at these issues from the lens of a Catholic.