This Thanksgiving, families across the country are approaching the holiday with post-election dread: amidst expressions of gratitude and familial love, politics will inevitably slither themselves into the dinner-table conversation. We’ve seen plenty of guides on girding ourselves, from survival guides to tips on how to dance around the subject, peaceful engagement tactics to avoiding the subject altogether.
Medical Ethicist Art Caplan has another suggestion.
“That’s snowflake stuff,” Caplan said. “At our Thanksgiving, we’re going to have a screaming, elbow-throwing, gun-flashing strangulation event. Let’s get into it! Why would we assemble the family if we’re not going to fight? What’s the point of that?”
If this tactic doesn’t work, Caplan suggests taking a more long-term perspective. “When the family assembles and you look around the table, think about this: those are the people who are most likely to be there if you get very sick, and if you can’t communicate, they will guide your care,” Caplan said. “That will get you eating pretty quickly in a fit of depression, because beyond those people who are going to really be there when you get sick—whether it’s your parents, or your siblings, or uncles, or friends… whoever. You might not like their politics, but imagine if they were controlling the oxygen to you if you couldn’t talk.”
Caplan recommends bringing this up after a healthy round of political debate.
“This is really the time, after you get done fighting about Trump, and Clinton, and the Alt-Right and all that, get into a discussion of end-of-life care, because those are the people who will probably be involved for you,” Caplan said. “There they are, you have them assembled, you’re watching football… it’s an excellent time to bring up end-of-life plans. You should say, ‘look, for the last 20 years, the Detroit Lions have died on national television. You know, any one of us might get very sick and face death, and what would you want? And who should make decisions?’”
Massive amounts of stuffing and gravy, and scream at your aunts.
And of course, the last-resort standby of stress-eating. “You can indulge during the holiday, and I wouldn’t deprive myself of what everyone else is doing, I think that is a formula to feel frustrated and mad and angry,” Caplan said. “Food is more than calories, and food is more than stress relief. It’s family, it’s having a kind of cultural significance… and then if you won’t fight, I mean, come on.”
Caplan’s golden rules of thanksgiving: Fight loudly, eat excessively, and, while you’re at it, plan your own death. “Massive amounts of stuffing and gravy,” Caplan said, “and scream at your aunts.”
To hear Caplan’s full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.