Keep dinner table debates civil this holiday season

Alex Mazzaferro, Staff Columnist

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During the holiday season, there are some dinnertime conversation topics that nearly everyone avoids or becomes apprehensive about. Sometimes my palms start to sweat when I’m sitting in class because all I can think about is my nanna screaming about communism when my cousin with blue hair brings up Bernie Sanders. I spend my month of December praying to Christ for salvation from conversations about the economy led by my father who gets investment advice from Uber drivers.

Certain topics become so emotional and polarizing that an agreement is never reached. Before you know it, a religious debate turns into a screaming match where your Catholic father calls your Protestant mother a heathen and leaves for a pack of cigarettes, and doesn’t return for sixteen years.

Certain topics, such as religion, politics and money, can turn any conversation into a minefield. Sometimes, trying not to set someone off on a related topic can feel like trying not to wake up a sleeping baby while tip-toeing around in steel-toe boots on bubble wrap and having bells tied to your ankles.

Why are these topics so vexing? People should be able to have civil conversations with each other without hurling insults every which way for having differing opinions. The problem with these conversations isn’t the content. Rather, the participants are the issue.

Family dinner debates have undoubtedly been uncomfortable and, at times, heated, for ages, but it seems that the partisan culture that we live in today has exacerbated the issue. Many political views are so personalized that one might listen to another’s opinion and take it as a personal attack.

According to a study published in Scientific Reports by Jonas Kaplan, “when confronted with counterevidence, people experience negative emotions borne of conflict between the perceived importance of their existing beliefs and the uncertainty created by the new information.”

In fewer words, people get very angry when you challenge their deeply rooted beliefs, especially with evidence.

So, if/when your family starts to have a severely under-informed debate about whether global warming is real or a Chinese conspiracy, and your cousin brings out a stack of scientific evidence, your grandmother might call your cousin a “sensitive, liberal crybaby,” because she’s protecting her own views.

Being millennials, the soon-to-be generation at large, we have a duty to change this culture, and to start setting a good example for our younger family members this holiday season. So, when the dinner conversation inevitably turns into a verbal bloodbath, appreciate that someone sees an issue differently, and try to see things from their point of view. Or, depending on how old you are, either sit at the kids table again so you can flex on your six-year-old cousin with Fortnite solo win screenshots, or you can have a four-finger pour of whiskey and bite your tongue at the adult table.