Every December, my husband and I gather with friends for a white elephant party, exchanging stupid gifts and catching up on a year’s worth of small chat. Usually, the biggest surprise is who opens the requisite phallic gift.
But last year, I was caught off guard by something else.
There I was, drink in one hand, gingerbread cookie in the other, when a friend started grilling me on my political stance. I defended my beliefs — free markets, individual responsibility, yada yada yada — as well as I could, but it wasn’t my best work. She walked away confirmed in her notion that socialism will solve all of society’s problems.
For my part, I was just as unconvinced in the benefits of government as I was before our little talk (read: completely unconvinced). Moreover, I felt misunderstood and that I had done a bad job explaining the logic behind my political view.
I had been planning on stuffing my face and opening up a Bob Ross Chia Pet. Instead, I had been put on the spot to defend freedom and voluntarism. I had been completely blindsided.
But I shouldn’t have been.
Awkward, heated political discussions are as American as apple pie. And it’s likely you’ll encounter one or two during your holiday travels (both discussions and pies, actually).
The problem is, there are few ways for a discussion about politics to go well at a Christmas party or the dinner table. Either you’ll sit around ranting about things and agreeing with each other (gun control, amirite?) or you will decidedly NOT agree with each other.
Then there will be heightened emotions and ad hominem attacks and harsh generalizations and hurt feelings. Basically the opposite of Peace on Earth.
If you want to have a merry little Christmas, you’re going to have to be prepared. Here are seven tips for avoiding a political discussion at your next holiday gathering — or at least surviving it with your dignity intact.
1. Do not engage. Don’t be the one to start the conversation about taxes or immigration or Trump’s Twitter feed. Treat the Christmas party like social media. Realize that the best you can hope for in a discussion that happens there is “agreeing to disagree.”
2. Change the subject. Your uncle’s arraignment, your grandmother’s weight gain, or your cousin’s vasectomy will all be less uncomfortable than talking about politics.
3. Have some talking points. If there’s no stopping the discussion, you need to be prepared. I tend to get flustered in heated conversations and forget how to defend what I believe. This is where talking points come in.
Not facts. Don’t be silly. The truth won’t get you any headway with your statist challenger. I mean simple statements that do the work of arguing for you. Here are some examples:
4. Keep your emotions in check. As much as your blood is boiling over being called a “fascist,” don’t be the crazy person getting all riled up about the discussion. Keep your demeanor calm and your words calmer.
Recite the lyrics to “O Come All Ye Faithful” in your head if it helps.
Under no circumstances should you bring up Hitler, no matter how apt the comparison. Stay sane, and you’re more likely to emerge joyful and triumphant.
5. Sit at the kids’ table. Give up on converting your older relatives, and put your hopes in the youth of your family.
Engage them in discussion about the fairness of compulsory schooling. What about their having to ask the government’s permission to get a job? And did they know that suicide rates for teen girls are at an all-time high?
There’s some cheer for you! You should do birthday parties.
6. Bring a gift to smooth things over. Give them something they want, like The Communist Manifesto, Bernie Sanders’ biography, or a safe space. Or give them something they need, like Economics for Dummies or a gun.
7. Exercise your right of voluntary association and don’t attend at all. That event sounds like a real drag anyway. After all, there is no place like home for the holidays.