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When family gatherings push you to your edge, remember the art of silence.
By nature I am opinionated. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing, my education, or my sun sign landing in Sagittarius, but I’m fiery and passionate. These are unrivaled personality traits, but sometimes they can be seen as provocative, especially in social situations and definitely among family.
Each Thanksgiving my small extended family caravans to Seaside, a quaint suburban town in northwest Florida. We rent a house and spend the week riding bikes, playing board games, and catching up. We go all year without seeing each other, so Thanksgiving week is the apex of all family bonding.
Though I adore my family, I’m equally infatuated with the power of my voice, which has gotten me into trouble on a number of occasions. This has encouraged me to master the art of shutting the h*ll up.
Last Thanksgiving, I found myself in the deepest of pits after asserting an unwanted opinion. Though I was attempting to make small talk at the dinner table, my effort to fill a quiet void spiraled into sharp glares and reprisal.
One of my family members (their relation to me and their name will remain anonymous) mentioned their humble opinion about America’s current political state. Though their comments, in reality, were harmless, my blood began to boil.
They spouted over generalized statements and facts about politicians, but had nothing to back their arguments. They claimed all news outlets were “fake news,” and they couldn’t believe the lies Americans live in daily.
That’s when I lost it.
After the soliloquy was over, the table was quiet. Everyone sat in his or her thoughts, seemingly unfazed by the political slurs and comments. If I had been a cartoon character, smoke would have billowed from my ears.
So naturally I broke the silence.
I asked for facts and articles to back everything they had just said. I begged for proof of “fake news.” I wanted just an ounce of validity. I harshly vetted them to little or no success, and then word vomited my opinion in the least constructive manner.
Then the table fell into a different sort of silence. Not a single fork scraped a plate, and no one swallowed. As the words, “And so basically you’re just wrong,” rolled off my tongue, I knew I had made a mistake.
I felt my face grow red, and my palms became clammy. I had overshared an opinion that no one at the dinner table cared to hear. I wanted nothing more than to curl into a self-loathing ball and hide until New Year’s.
As I felt the eyes drilling into me, I took a deep breath and apologized. I had crossed a boundary and ruined a family dinner, all in pursuit of proving my idea of “correctness.”
In that moment I learned that politics are no place for the dinner table, and sometimes you have to shut the h*ll up.
I realized that sometimes people want to share their thoughts and views without an attack from the other side. Sometimes people just enjoy to hearing their own voice, and sometimes, in my case, it’s okay to let them do so.
Experiences such as this one opened my eyes to the importance of accepting another person’s opinion, especially when they’re family. Family should be respected and listened to, not attacked and put down. We are all only human and each have our own views.
It’s important to facilitate constructive conversation about politics and open the door to discuss differences and find common ground. Or to just agree to disagree.
Looking back, I’m still so embarrassed I ruined a family dinner over a fiery passion for my personal values. There were a myriad of ways I could have handled that situation, and I took the single most immature path. The adult option would have been to shut the h*ll up.
Thanksgiving is a time to love and cherish family regardless of where they stand politically or socially. Remember it’s okay to have an opinion, but asserting it can be destructive. And, most of the time you can’t change anyone’s mind.
So I encourage everyone this holiday season to practice the art of shutting the h*ll up, because keeping quiet can save you from eternal embarrassment.
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More on Mental Health on Campus:
What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need
If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help
The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis