How To Handle Political Differences At The Dinner Table

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Growing up in Montreal, Quebec during the rise of a separatist political party in the 1970’s, this gave me a front row seat to how families can be divided because of political differences. Every Sunday, after church, this division played out in my living room.

After lunch, my mother’s two siblings and their families would all congregate at our house. Both of their families believed that Quebec should separate and become an independent country. My military father believed in Canada’s union.

Daddy would sarcastically tell them that, because men like him had risked their lives to give them that freedom, it was their right to believe it. You can just imagine the heated arguments that ensued.

Personally, I found it exciting to listen in on these grownup debates. To this day, I’m a huge political junkie. (Just ask my non-political family as I was glued to all things political for the last 2 years.)

Feelings of unfairness, suspicion, anger and division were rampant

It was not uncommon to hear anecdotal stories of French-Canadian workers who had to learn English for their English boss. This felt unfair because the French were the majority. Grumblings and misinformation got traded around.

Today we see that the separatist movement rewrote school history books to discredit and malign the English and the rest of Canada. We are the proof that history gets rewritten.

My federalist, bilingual father would argue to convince my disenfranchised, French uncles that they had benefited greatly from being in a strong, united Canada. The truth is that at the time, although my father disagreed, the French culture was at risk of being assimilated and lost.

Despite our faulty history books, we are OK today! It doesn’t matter what elementary school taught them. The internet has shown our millennials how globalization increases everyone’s riches.

My uncles now, a little older and wiser, are glad for the social network and safety net that a larger country provides.

Even when our white haired left-over separatists of years ago continue to grumble, our majority don’t want to revisit that divisive rhetoric.

In these last 40 years, we have managed to heal this division. We are two nations who have learned to tolerate our differences.

Because of this, I truly believe that this loud American hiccough will eventually subside and people will put relationships before politics once again. After all, respect and human rights are part of the current American value system.

Getting through the holidays

How do you get through the holidays if someone at the table is gloating while the other is afraid? There is a lot of healing and forgiving that will need to happen.

When I look at my own family, we still remain politically the same for the most part. There are disagreements but not loud arguments. And I truly love my cousins and relatives.

So, from someone who has seen this up close, here’s what we figured out:

1.   thankfulPolitics must be off the table at family celebrations. Make the conversation about vacations you took, remembering that time your daughter cut the dog’s hair and talk about aunt Mable who smelled like cinnamon all the time.

2.   It’s mostly what you tell yourself. Without talking about it, remind yourself that you were lucky to have a choice. Too many countries in the world do not give the freedom to choose. America is one of the founding democracies that other countries use as their model. That is a proud history.

3.   Forgive the other person for not having the time and the resources to evaluate, unbiased and without fear, what you saw in your candidate. The country was swimming in misinformation to the point where people simply could not process it all effectively. They made a decision based on only partial information. (Most people had children to pick up from daycare and mortgages to pay. They didn’t have time for more than small bits and faulty gut feelings.)

4.   Having done crisis intervention and grief counseling over the years, I truly understand how life can turn on a dime. I encourage you to ask yourself what is the last thing you want to remember as an exchange with this person should some tragedy happen. Make a point that, over Thanksgiving, you will find a moment of grace and connection.

Thanksgiving is about grace. Christmas is about Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. (The advent candles.)

Letting go is the first key to moving forward.

  • After the house burns down we need to look for souvenirs.
  • After the funeral we need to find meaning again.
  • Now that it is after the election, it is time to look for what you have in common with them.
  • Know that this too shall pass: because, despite the fact that they really are driving you crazy right now, you really truly love them.

Postscript: Quebec is a wonderful mix now. The French culture brings a touch of Europe and we have a “Joie de vivre” and creativity envied by many. The English continues to be our connection to the business world. We were truly the “Tale of Two Cities” and we have learned to know and love each other.

It’s your turn: I truly believe that this American divide is like giving birth much like our own movement was. It’s loud, it’s messy, you’ll lose some sleep. When you can forgive and choose love, you will begin to see beauty in the mess.

Look for the little things to be thankful for and nurture those into big things. Your happiness and relationships are counting on it.

Wishing my American friends a very Happy and Loving Holiday Season.

If you haven’t gotten it yet, check out my 4 step script on How to Ask For What You Want confidently and respectfully. Some of my clients have told me it saved their relationship! 

2 thoughts on “How To Handle Political Differences At The Dinner Table

  1. Really great post Monique! I remember those heady days in Quebec and you so right in it being the Brexit that never happened. As a Canadian I love having a Quebec as part of our country. I love the diversity that Quebec has always embraced. My French is not as good as it used to be since I have lived in Toronto for 30 years so I struggle a bit when I visit but that’s ok. I am always will to try ( despite it being embarrassing sometimes, I know it’s appreciated). I love going back there and knowing that those people who live life so fully ( and who dress so well) are an important part of Canada and it’s history and that we more in common than we don’t. Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving to our American neighbours.

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