Everybody knows what it’s like at Thanksgiving dinner when someone starts piping up with their political views, as if that’s a fine time to open a rational and productive conversation about a nice, polarizing topic. It’s not a right or left-wing kind of tendency, it’s more about who has the psychological advantage at the time.
The advantage usually comes from numbers – families tend to lean toward one political party or the other. The unfortunate folks who marry into these families then have the choice of simply gritting their teeth and pretending to agree with everybody, or taking the bait and ending up engaged in long, frustrating and often insulting exchanges which are troubling enough on a day-to-day basis. They can flat ruin a holiday dinner.
Right about now, it’s your conservative family members who will be swaggering about going “Yep, the people have spoken and the tide’s turning and I’m right, just like I suspected.”
In the same manner that two years ago the liberals were all moonwalking around with big O’s painted on their foreheads, acting like South Park characters.
I conduct real estate closings to fill in the gaps between blogging checks (there aren’t really any blogging checks), and I can recall shortly after Obama got into office, I was going to do a closing for a buddy of mine’s dad.
This guy is a very old-school conservative – has owned his own business for thirty or forty years, has an office with Limbaugh books on the walls, and he likes to sit in there, puffing on big, serious cigars. He’s the kind of fellow who will diagnosis you as a communist, and he won’t do it quietly.
Without going into the political side of things, let’s just say we don’t share all of the same views, but he’s never diagnosed me as a communist, and a real estate closing can take around an hour. That’s without a series of political interludes.
So I know the guy, it wouldn’t have done any good to just walk in there and pretend to be Johnny Right Wing. That works on strangers by the way, I trained a guy – a real, serious Keith Olbermann liberal – to close real estate transactions during the 2004 election, and I paraphrased Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, when he asked how to deal with politics during a closing.
“Listen,” I told him. “If someone asks you if you’re a Republican, you say yes.”
He didn’t listen, by the way – just last month he was diagnosed as a communist. Sigh.
Anyway, going into the closing, I was trying to think of how to handle the political side of the conversation I was about to have, and I decided to see if I could come up with anything that both of us would agree on. Then, when politics inevitably arose in conversation, I could hold up that topic, whatever it was.
Right after Obama got into office, there wasn’t much that appealed to both sides. But there were the pirates who had taken hostages, and who then took some bullets courtesy of a few Navy SEALS.
I pulled up a couple of stories about it online, so I’d know what I was talking about. The SEALS had dropped into the water a mile away from the ship the pirates had boarded, made their way to it in the dark, which is already more than the rest of us could have done.
Then they climbed up the side of it with suction cups on their hands, undetected and lined up sniper rifle shots on rough seas. They were aiming at a small boat tethered to one side, where three pirates had guns to a hostage’s head. The SEALS decided that the hostages were about to be killed, so they fired simultaneously through tiny moving windows in the dark, three shots, three hits, and then the hostages were sitting there with three dead pirates.
Right of a Tom Clancy novel – who doesn’t want to talk about that?
I thought, that’s it right there. We can definitely both agree on pirates, and we can definitely both agree that Navy SEALS are badass, and so I read up on the details (I’m afraid they’re a little hazy two years later, so I might currently have the numbers wrong, for example), and then I went into the closing fully prepared to describe exactly how the SEALS got into position and took their shots.
It wasn’t even a trick or a ploy – I thought it was absolutely fascinating, how most of us sat at home watching the pirate/hostage situation on our televisions, feeling completely helpless while we learned about professional hostage negotiators and how ransom gets paid and what kind of political craziness was going on in Somalia, to make this piracy lifestyle worthwhile.
It was certainly very effective, though. Not five minutes into the closing, this guy started to frame a political conversation, and I said, “Hey, man, how ’bout those Navy SEALS taking out those pirates, huh?”
And his face lit up – just like a kid on Christmas morning. It turned out, he didn’t know many of the details, so in the gaps between documents where conversations take place in this sort of situation, we ended up talking like a couple of twelve year-olds about the badass Navy SEALS who weren’t helpless at all when it came to pirates, no, my friend. Not very helpless at all.
You might in fact have characterized them and their well-placed bullets as very helpful indeed. Unless you were a pirate, that is.
So that’s my suggestion, as Thanksgiving dinner draws near, if you’re worried about political debates ruining dinner. Think of a few things in advance that everyone agrees on, and use them to diffuse the topic as it comes up. If you can’t think of any, go ahead and use pirates.
Let me know how it goes. Have a happy Thanksgiving everybody, unless you’re one of my overseas readers, in which case have a bang-up Thursday and let me know how that goes, too.