Does the thought of the family and friends getting together for Thanksgiving bring warm feelings of anticipation, or strike panic and anxiety into your heart?

For many of us, the thought of holiday get-togethers comes with a side dish of concern that although the turkey might be tender, the conversation might be tough. Politics, pandemics and polemics don't make for light, festive conversation. How do we enjoy some family Thanksgiving time without beating the stuffing out of one another?

Back in 2018 B.C. (Before Corona) I was overwhelmed with stories of friends and family members who had a falling out, unfriended each other and quit speaking to one another. Mostly it was over politics, since we didn’t yet have vaccines and masks to fight about. Each story was worse than the previous one. We had to do something.

We created Clean Speech Colorado, a 30-day education and awareness campaign to bring the lessons of Jewish mindful speech to the forefront of community attention. It rolled out in November of 2019 with the whole spectrum of Jewish organizations involved, day schools, synagogues, JCCs, Federations, Hadassah ladies and Chabad houses. We were all in.

The first campaign addressed the power of speech and the ills of lashon hara (gossip and slander). It was warmly embraced by thousands of Colorado Jews, and so it was followed by another campaign in November of 2020 which tackled compassionate speech.

We are now in the midst of Clean Speech Colorado Volume 3: Oseh Shalom | Words of Peace, and Clean Speech campaigns have also sprouted in Minnesota, Ottawa and Illinois, with more communities around North America on the way.

Of all the incredible feedback we’ve received, I think the most touching was from an older couple who attended a Clean Speech event called All in the Family: How to Have Civil Political Discourse. The talk featured a brother and sister who were both state elected officials with quite divergent political opinions who nonetheless remained very close, loving siblings.

“I have always dreaded Thanksgiving. My husband and I do not share the same political views."

After the talk the wife came over to me and whispered the following.

“I have always dreaded Thanksgiving. My husband and I do not share the same political views. When the family comes over, the conversation invariably turns to politics, and becomes SO uncomfortable. It has been this way for decades. Until this year. You have given us tools that make it possible for us to spend Thanksgiving together peacefully. It’s a new world for us.”

No one shows up planning to cause an argument. But in many homes, that’s exactly what happens. What can we do to survive the holiday with friendships and familial ties intact?

Here are some suggestions to help make your holiday meals peaceful and successful:

  1. From the outset, ask for everyone’s help to maintain a tolerant and pleasant evening and to refrain from saying anything offensive or insensitive. Making an open request for respectful dialogue as you begin will put everyone on their best behavior, and they can all be part of the solution with you.

  2. Set the right tone for the conversation by speaking positively about each person at the meal early on. Give them some positive recognition, such as thanking them for their contribution to the evening or sharing something nice going on in their lives. They will feel uplifted by your words, and rise to be their best selves. And the tone will be set for positive, upbeat table talk.

  3. To keep your goal of a peaceful dinner in the forefront of everyone’s mind, place a visual reminder in front of them on the table. Make a little table tent with the words “Don’t be a turkey! Speak sweetly like pumpkin pie.” You can even place a small bowl of candies on the table, and invite anyone who speaks in a particularly respectful way to take one.

  4. Be prepared to change the topic of conversation. If someone at the table says something provocative or triggering, and you fear an argument might occur, quickly take control of the situation by changing the subject. If you have one or two non-confrontational things ready to say, you’ll be able to jump right in and save the night if necessary.

  5. To really sharpen your skills at speaking peacefully, sign up for a Clean Speech campaign at CleanSpeech.com. If you invite your friends and family to participate along with you, you’ll all be on the same page before the turkey even comes out of the oven.

To bring Clean Speech to your community, email info@cleanspeech.com