By Marilyn Halpern, MSW, LSW ~
“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” -L. J. Isham
Our country continues to struggle with rigid polarities, especially regarding political differences. For many, those struggles can be brought right to the dining room on Thanksgiving Day. Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, writes: “Each human is a complex, contradictory story. Some stories within us have been unfolding for years, others are trembling with fresh life as they peek above the horizon. Each is a zigzag of emotional design and ancestral architecture. All the stories in the earth’s mind are connected.” Sometimes these connections are obvious, but sometimes they can pose a challenge.
National Day of Listening is celebrated during the Thanksgiving holiday when families and friends have gathered for a feast. We can structure our Thanksgiving gathering to promote connection and healing.
Here are some strategies that might help accentuate family connection and minimize conflicts:
Choose connection rather than conflict. From the onset, if our goal is connection, compassionate listening, and meaningful conversation, then the expectation of our gathering can be clear and positive. This mindset can be fostered by curiosity. If you anticipate differences may arise, ask yourself, “What circumstances and beliefs have cultivated this viewpoint?” Compassion and understanding begin at home.
A silent start. Encouraging a moment of reflection among your holiday guests can be transformative. The silence can be a time of prayer or meditation, as a way to reflect on the strong bonds of friendship and family or a way to honor relatives you’ve lost.
Truly give thanks. Families can choose to spend their mealtime chatting about how fortunate they have been in the past year. Our blessings can include recovering from an illness, having a stable job, and being able to gather as a family. The list of life’s blessings, simple gifts and even miracles can focus our attention on the positive.
Connect with questions. Conversation starter cards are available to help keep guests off their mobile devices and engaged in catching up with family and friends. “Tabletopics Family Edition” is available on Amazon. The cards receive good reviews and can be used year-round. Blogger, Shannon Coleman, has provided a free set of 30 printable cards at “Of the Hearth,” https://ofthehearth.com/30-questions-to-ask-around-the-thanksgiving-table/. This is a convenient way to give conversation starter cards a try to see how they work with your family.
Acceptance is not agreement. If tension creeps into the conversation, it might be helpful to “agree to disagree.” Even if this gentle approach is only adopted in your own approach to the conflict, it can be helpful. Attempt to redirect the conversation to common ground or another topic.
Disengage. If all reconciliation attempts fail, you don’t have to respond. Another approach is to have a preplanned off-ramp for tense conversations. Prepare a statement that conveys you understand the viewpoint or concern, but you don’t share the opinion and you are done talking about it for today. You may have to calmly repeat this message several times or remain silent. You may have to leave the situation.
The holidays can be a time to affirm and nurture connection with compassionate listening. The effort can begin the process of putting our differences aside to foster healing for ourselves, our families, and our country. From our home to yours, have a meaningful and peaceful Thanksgiving!
Marilyn Halpern is the founder and executive director of Aspen Care Services. This locally owned business provides medical power of attorney, care management and professional guardianship services in the Denver Metro area. For more information visit – www.aspencareservices.com. Photo credit: Roland Halpern