There is a golden rule for dealing with difficult, emotive issues.

When dealing with perceived slights, actual insults, misbehavior and ill-gotten gains, between friends, frenemies, in-laws or relatives, resist telling that person exactly what you think of them or their cherished political affiliation. Don’t text. Don’t email. Don’t send Facebook messages. Don’t Slack
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for the love of God, please don’t tweet
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 your views.

Whatever your feelings on President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election as more state certify the results, President-elect Joe Biden’s policy and cabinet choices or how Christopher Columbus, the merits of mask mandates — or how Columbus managed to “discover” a country that was already populated by indigenous peoples — avoid them at Thanksgiving dinner.

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That’s what every self-satisfied article on Thanksgiving etiquette suggests. But with a couple of glasses of wine and some simmering resentments from Thanksgivings of yore, that annoyingly obvious rule of thumb is likely to last as long as a turkey on Thanksgiving — or a small chicken, who may be feeling nervous at the reduced size of Thanksgiving dinners this year due to COVID-19.

If things get heated, remember the good things about the person. You can always find something. He loves his wife. She is a good mother. Or try putting yourself in their shoes, which is almost always a compassionate act. He had a poor childhood, and didn’t have the same opportunities. She had a privileged upbringing, which has shielded her from many of life’s trials and tribulations.


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So what happens if/when the conversation rolls around to the election? “Why do you say that?” is better than “You liberals/conservatives are all the same. I knew I shouldn’t have come here today!” A question is better than a statement. Opting for the latter risks offending your host or guest. But avoid questions starting with “Do you not think that…?” Nobody likes to be told what to think.

Tell them how you feel, not what they are. Avoid: “You’re a no-good Democratic… Or: “You’re a GOP-loving…” If your sibling or in-laws say you can’t take a joke or deflects by saying she meant X or Y, say it again: “It hurt my feelings.” If they do it again? Say, “Remember I asked you not to make value judgements about me over soup? Well, we’re now only on our turkey and it’s happened again.”

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If your mother-in-law says, “I wanted Daisy to marry a Republican like her father? Or I wanted Jack to marry a Democrat like his first wife, Laurie. I miss Laurie.” Don’t react, or lie either. Smiling politely (or sarcastically) at such an unflattering comment can feel like you’re taking the moral high ground, but seldom does it make us feel better, or help.Try, “Daisy has good taste.” Or, “Jack knows best.”

Thanksgiving dinner will already have a turkey, it doesn’t need two headless chickens fighting over the soul of the nation. If your diehard conservative mother or bleeding-heart liberal father want to exorcise their own demons by trying to awaken yours, don’t play along. Say, “Enough is enough,” take out the playing cards, and suggest a game of gin rummy. And if that fails to keep the peace?

Take a deep breath — and think of your inheritance.

Quentin Fottrell is the Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected]. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

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