November 10, 2020

How to Win (or Lose) Gracefully

Notwithstanding a slew of election-related court proceedings, we can now say with a fair amount of certainty that Joe Biden is the forty-sixth president of the United States. If you’re Blue, you’re overjoyed; if you’re Red, you may not even agree with my first sentence. Regardless of where you (or the election results) come out, in two weeks’ time you will be sitting around the table with family and friends sharing turkey and togetherness—and the national election results are a likely dinner-table topic. 

If everyone at your table shares your political and ideological leanings, I’d encourage you to broaden your horizon; different viewpoints, like side dishes, add richness to the banquet. More likely, though, that diversity already exists—in your left-leaning brother and his husband, or your MAGA-hat-wearing dad and mom. How, then, to handle the conversations that will inevitably come up between lightning rounds of stuffing? Whether you’re on the winning or, ahem, non-winning side in 2020, here’s my Thanksgiving edit on how to win, lose, and chow down gracefully.

1. Be Sensitive

It doesn’t matter whether you think Biden’s victory is an early harbinger of socialism, or Trump’s defeat is the end of a reign of terror. What matters is that the person you’re talking to feels differently than you do, so tread as lightly as you can. Respect is about tolerating differences and treating the other person with humanity as you present yourself with humility. Offering respect at Thanksgiving means not rubbing it in if you’re pro-Biden and not reading from Nostradamus’s end-of-world predictions if you’re pro-Trump.

2. Let it Go

Did your aunt just violate rule number one by telling you to cash out your IRA before “Sleepy Joe” outlaws capitalism? If so, you’re not alone—and nor are you compelled to respond. If you’re finding these comments are getting under your skin, practice mindfulness and ask yourself why. Much of the election taunting is about as sophisticated and nuanced as the barbs of children on a playground. If the person’s comment isn’t a taunt but a thoughtful criticism or observation, you can still choose to let it lie. After all, this isn’t a televised debate or a course on rhetoric. It’s Thanksgiving dinner, which is fraught enough.

3. Lead Toward Love

Political discussions are about power, ideology, theory, and thought. In short: they’re of the brain, not the heart. As a participant in this meal, you can choose to guide your meal mates out of the realm of ideas and judgments and into a place of love. Propose going around the table and sharing something you’re grateful for, or a favorite Thanksgiving memory—and offer to go first. Or lead a toast to a cherished family member who has already passed on. If yours is the winning side, you can even offer a hug to your not-winning family member, reminding them that they are more important to you than any election ever could be. 

4. Pause

My clients in recovery call this “the sacred pause.” It’s the moment or moments you take before blurting out insults, slamming a door, or picking up a vase with the intent to throw. Use this tool, which is in many ways the gateway to all others. If you can stop and reflect before you act, even if only for an instant, you can prevent many a modern Thanksgiving Day catastrophe.