Making Dinner Great Again: The Ingredients for a Politically Palatable Dinner Conversation
by: Jamie Bjazevich
Without any explanation needed, almost everyone knows the taboos of family dinner conversations.Eating together can be a bonding and unifying experience so naturally we avoid topics that could be sources of dispute—politics included. While we might still have a bad taste in our mouths due to past experiences, I can’t resist pointing out its potential good. Surely, there are some settings where bringing up politics should be avoided (funerals and weddings for example). However, if we seek to know and connect with those we love on a deeper level, we ought to try to see the world through their eyes.
Political views, for most, are deep seeded. They often stem from our upbringing, culture, gender, geographical region, religion, and life experience. While families often share many of these traits, it’s not unusual for even an immediate family to span the whole gamut of political ideology. Even those within a tight-knit group are different.
If our political views reflect something of our identity and our view of the world, then we might consider taking the time to have these conversations with those we love. And what better place to start than at the dinner table!
With that being said, there are a few guidelines or “ingredients”, if you will, that can make these mealtime conversations meaningful.
#1 Let the conversation flow: Most things, by nature, are political. From work dynamics to parenting, to the functioning of school PTAs— all these things can be linked back to larger, more general ways of thinking. Because of this, you won’t need to force political conversations. They will happen naturally. Initially politically charged conversation might cause some apprehension, as it is akin to treading through uncharted waters, but let it flow.
#2 Ask questions and listen: To make these conversations meaningful, lay aside competitive attitudes, which we are all guilty of at times. Take the position of genuine interest and a sincere desire to learn how your loved one sees the world. The purpose of these conversations is to simply learn their view, not to change their view.
#3 Find common ground: Just as most things by nature are political, most political opinions have a value at its core. Whether it’s the safety in national security, the generosity in universal health care, or freedom in tax breaks—the basis of most beliefs centers on good, what is right, and how we should order society. Look behind the perceived differences and find commonality between these values.
#4 Agree to Disagree: The purpose of these conversations is not to change our loved one’s views, rather to learn about their views. There will be disagreements. That is good, that is what is expected, that is OKAY. President Dallin H. Oaks once taught, “though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs.” Unification is absolutely possible despite disagreements. As you might imagine, this practice may require a leap of faith along with some serious determination. Without discounting the costs, imagine the fulfilling experience of talking about things that matter with people that matter. As we focus on principles of love, listening, and sincere interest in those we care for, dinner will become a lot more than just dinner.