Finding common ground at Thanksgiving dinner
"I swear, if I have to sit by my racist uncle this year ..."
"Social justice warriors and conservatives have to sit at opposite ends of the table."
"I mean, the food is good, but not that good."
You would think that any holiday that involves the consumption of pie is an excellent one, but Thanksgiving — despite its status as the quintessential American holiday — is a contentious day for many.
It's not wholly unexpected, as any gathering of people with vastly different opinions is bound to be tense. At this point, arguments at the dinner table are an accepted aspect of Thanksgiving Day, just as mundane as the turkey sitting at the center of the table.
Outside of my immediate family, all of my relatives live halfway around the globe in South Korea. Therefore, my experience with large family dinners is limited to the "Friends" Thanksgiving episodes and the stories my friends tell me.
The happy stories — stories about sweet cousins, funny uncles, loving grandparents — make me feel a twinge of envy. Other stories, the ones concerning racist aunts and homophobic grandfathers, have me thinking that I dodged a bullet.
Is it possible for there to be civil discourse among people with such radically different perspectives? Ideally, yes. However, in this age of intense political division, the mention of anything from a" Saturday Night Live" episode to rising temperatures can spark intense arguments about politics that leave bystanders cowering behind their green bean casserole. We can't demand that people stop talking about politics, as that is neither realistic nor fair, but we can expect a higher level of respect from one another.
It's human nature to overgeneralize and jump to conclusions. Trump supporter? Automatically a racist homophobe. "Feel the Bern" bumper sticker? For sure a raging social justice warrior who is obsessed with being "woke."
Ill-advised as it is, we like to put things into neat little boxes, which inevitably leads to a loss of nuance. The first step toward understanding and civil discussion is being willing to accept that we reside in the gray area.
Within this gray area, there are more things connecting us than dividing us. With a few exceptions, I think everyone is driven by at least some good intentions, as difficult as it is to admit that at times. I don't know how well this notion resonated with people at Thanksgiving dinner, but at the very least, I hope people got to eat a lot of mashed potatoes.
Sydney Byun is a senior at Wilsonville High School.
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