Angry Uncle Review: Think Ahead and Plan

According to CNN, Diana Butler Bass holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University and is the author of 10 books on American religion and culture, including Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. If you’re unable to bail out of Thanksgiving entirely, here is her advice:

If you must spend the holiday with a politically divided family, you can do some things to lessen anxiety, whether you are the host or a guest.

If you are the host, much of what happens at the dinner depends on what you do to make your guests — all your guests — feel safe and valued. Don’t assume people will get along….Provide “Rules for a Nonpartisan Thanksgiving” at each seat. Make them funny: no throwing food; no fights over dark or light meat or jellied versus whole-berry cranberry sauce; no flipping between FOX and MSNBC during dinner.

Hosts can also encourage meaningful talk in ways that respect others. Have guests write down what they are grateful for, put the slips in a jar, and then have people draw papers and read the thanks of others out loud.

….If you are brave, have your guests address politics directly. Ask those gathered when they’ve last had a meal with someone of a different political party or felt truly grateful for different opinions and perspectives. If you are a Republican, have a story ready from your own life about what you appreciate and what you’ve learned from your Democratic relatives (and the opposite for those of you who are Democrats).

If you are a guest […] prepare strategies for maintaining your cool. Have a “text-a-friend” ready. Use bathroom breaks tactically. Deflect controversy with jokes. Take a long walk after dinner. Put your therapist on speed-dial. Bring the greatest dessert ever as a gift; if you contribute good food, it is harder for people to get mad at you. If you decide to engage a political concern, do so with both facts and humor.

Once again, this is an awfully structured answer to the angry uncle problem. Given what I’ve observed about the willingness of people to plan and carry out structured get-togethers like this, I’m skeptical that it can work. If you have a whole family of Type B personalities, maybe. But if that’s the case, you probably don’t have much of a problem in the first place.

However, the final paragraph is genuinely useful and is totally under your control. If you know beforehand that angry Uncle Tucker is a problem, then think about avoidance and calming strategies before you ever show up. Learn to meditate before tomorrow at 3:00. Take a Valium or five as soon as you walk in the door. Say “eh?” a lot and tell your family you have an appointment to get your ears checked next week. Whatever works. Just for Bass’s advice to think ahead, I’m giving this four uncles.

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