02MargaretI was amused last fall when a friend shared plans for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Hers is an eastern North Carolina clan, with growing ranks of young adults who are recent college graduates and who see the world in terms of diversity, openness and helping others reach their potential. Couple that with a platoon of older relatives — aka grumpy old white guys — who voted to “Make America Great Again,” and you can see where this is headed. Remember that Thanksgiving was barely two weeks after the dreadful 2016 election, and wounds on both sides were fresh and tender.

My friend decided to weather Thanksgiving by placing a sign on her kitchen island announcing a “Politics-Free Zone” and threatening to eject offenders from the family gathering.  

I chuckled and congratulated my friend on her ingenuity and assured her that this, too, shall pass.

Wrongo!  

The division and rancor in American life has not improved.  It may be worse than ever.

North Carolinian and humorist Celia Rivenbark devoted a recent syndicated column to our inability to talk about our divides that come from political affiliation, class, race, education, age and all sorts of other things.  

Rivenbark reported that political talk was banned — or at least attempts were made — at several gatherings she recently attended.  This included one where the hostess allowed political conversation until a certain guest arrived, at which time guests were instructed to put a sock in it.

Rivenbark, whose columns are celebrated for both their humor and Southern flavor, reacted this way: “This conversation ban is harder for some of us to adhere to than others. While I’m happy to spend way too much time dissecting the crumbling relationship between real New York housewives Ramona and Bethany, it’s weird to be told what you can and can’t talk about.”  

She was just warming up.  Here is more:

“One day soon, restaurants and bars will be segregated. The hostess will greet you with, ‘Politics?’ or ‘No politics?’ so your conversation won’t offend like stale cigarette smoke did back in the day.”

All of this is silly, of course, but the reality of our national political and social acrimony is anything but. Both sides are convinced of their absolute correctness.  Both sides have arms crossed protectively over their chests and are staring down the other side.  

Congress gets nothing accomplished because members are loath to talk across the partisan aisle and those of us in the hinterlands are in much the same shape.

I cannot speak for Celia Rivenbark, but it occurs to me that we could all benefit from some professional counseling. Across our nation, bazillions of counselors make their livings by helping people, often family members but also others, learn how to talk to each other about difficult issues.  

Imagine an arena full of partisans from both sides listening to on-stage, big-screen counselors intoning, “Repeat after me. ‘I respect you even if I violently disagree with your politics.’” With luck, there could be a tearful group hug at the end of the counseling session.

A ridiculous thought, I know, but I also know our nation is struggling with what kind of country we want to be, and we are not going to resolve this if we cannot communicate with those who disagree with us. 

It would help if our political leaders could be our role models for reaching out to the other side, but that seems unlikely if you watch the chattering classes on television. Name-calling in public and in private is more popular than actual conversation.  My fantasy would be a grass roots movement not unlike Moral Mondays or the Tea Party where we all begin talking to each other honestly and without anger.

In the meantime, Rivenbark, the mother of a young adult daughter, seems to have her own strategy for handling “Politics Free Zone” friends who clearly make her want to do exactly the opposite.

“A well-intentioned host wagging his finger and saying ‘No political talk tonight’ makes me want to do crazy stuff like say ‘Pass the parsley potatoes and tell me what’s the worst thing a mother could hear. It’s ‘Mom, I have a second date with Bill O’Reilly tonight.’”

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