Talk turkey, don't beat the drumstick


The Thanksgiving table is not the place for the things that divide us.

Posted: November 18, 2012

Debra Nussbaum

is an adjunct journalism professor at Rowan University

During the failed effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin this year, there were reports of fights breaking out at weddings and social occasions between those who favored firing Walker and those who thought he was doing a perfectly good job. A man in Chippewa Falls tried to stop his estranged wife from voting on recall day and she reportedly ran into him with her car.

Not all political disagreements reach these extremes. However, as we prepare to gather for Thanksgiving, Americans should think about whether they want to bring up Blue States vs. Red States, Democrats vs. Republicans, or Nate Silver's election forecasts vs. Karl Rove's while surrounded by loved ones who don't always agree and who are armed with the family's best silver.

I'm no expert on manners, but I feel 100 percent confident in the following rule: Don't bring your political views to the holiday table. Resist the temptation to slip in your analysis, however brilliant it may be, of election 2012 or your forecasts for 2016 while passing the stuffing and pumpkin pie.

The holidays are a time when many friends and family members, who may not get together that often, sit down with the hope of enjoying a delicious meal, a festive occasion, and bonhomie. There are already plenty of potential minefields, from ancient family feuds to real bird vs. Tofurkey. Or consider the great debate over low-cal, no dairy, and gluten-free desserts. Nobody needs to dish up Fox vs. MSNBC, Boehner vs. Reid, or Florida's inability to count ballots in a timely fashion like every other state.

More than 25 percent of Americans said the presidential election hurt their personal relationships with a friend or family member, according to a Rasmussen Reports phone survey. Almost half (45 percent) said they argued with either a relative or a friend about the election.

This does not surprise South Jersey licensed psychologist Paul Booker, who has counseled couples and families for more than 30 years. His advice for the holiday table is "try not to solve anything."

"Set aside your differences and stay away from sensitive topics," Booker says. "Engage in fun activities and positive interchanges."

In recent years the increase of political discourse on the Internet, talk radio, and cable television has made conversation on politics "more inflamed" and people often take criticism of their views quite personally, he said.

There was a time when discussing politics or religion in social settings was considered so ill-mannered that it rarely happened. Those boundaries are often ignored today. Some people love a spirited discussion, but the holiday table isn't the place to hold it.

Booker suggests you politely tell your opinionated uncle or mother-in-law or child that this special day is not the time to discuss differences. Many of your guests will give thanks - for you. If others insist on having that conversation, suggest a time and place to meet. That is, of course, if you can agree on Starbucks vs. Dunkin' Donuts vs. the neighborhood coffee shop vs. a local diner.

E-mail Debra Nussbaum at

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