Op/Ed: Civility around the holiday table

We’ve all been there: You hear that relative make a comment – insensitive, political, take your pick – and your blood pressure rises, a response builds in your mouth, it takes everything to not react. This remains an unfortunate issue many Americans face, especially around the Holiday Season. As we gather around our respective tables there will almost undoubtedly be a moment where something is said that angers, baits, or disparages another.

As a college student, this makes me wary of these usually joyous times. If I can’t enjoy a meal with my family without feeling my fight or flight activated, why do I come home? The need for decorum and respect are starkly evident at holiday tables; everyone deserves to enjoy their time together as a family.

When seated around a festively decorated table the most important things on your mind should be the excitement for the delicious food and time spent with family. If arguments abound and disruptive discussions emerge, both pieces may fall by the wayside, and you’ll wish everyone would just #ShutYourPieHole. With the pandemic in our past, present, and presumably our future, maintaining meaningful connections with our family has become increasingly difficult.

Now many families may write off this argumentation as a normal occurrence that cannot be stopped, however, there are some easy ways to mitigate the situation.

  • Maintain ground rules: respect needs to be the basis of every conversation.
  • Walk away: the most basic way to avoid a difficult conversation or situation is to simply get up and go. It may seem rude at the moment, but far better than a shouting match instead.
  • Rally some support: coordinate with an ally or two at the table who will have your back in helping you keep calm or diffuse the potential toxic situation.
  • Prepare ammunition but try not to fire: you may want to immediately sling a zinger right back at the offending party, but if it’s not correct it may only aggravate the situation further. Know your piece, but only pull it out if absolutely necessary.
  • Change the topic: a few fail-safe topics remain that can be pulled out to diffuse a tense situation.
    • How are your pets doing?
    • Isn’t this weather we’re having so (un)seasonable?
    • That sports team (insert your preferred team) they’re doing (not) well.

For those who do not see the value in enjoying a civil meal with family and would argue that exposure and debate stand as the only way to change minds: Would your mind be changed with an aggressive conversation that made others uncomfortable? Holidays impact everyone who attends, not just your relative who needs to be brought into the 21st century.

Any time gathered as a family is precious. Be sure to use it wisely.

Molly Hohner
Kennett Township
Molly Hohner is a junior at Penn State.

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