Thanksgiving – I’ve loved it since I was a kid!
Time away from school. Savory smells of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie promising a few days of fun. Time to be silly with family while playing games, hiking or simply hanging around. Lots of family.
COVID put the kibosh on last year’s Thanksgiving. My fingers were crossed that this year would be different. Not so.
This Thanksgiving is going to be different too.
COVID surges have continued, dragging us all on the roller coaster of questions: What’s a safe way to celebrate? Should we travel this holiday? Do we gather with only the vaccinated? Is it possible to have our meal outside (and not freeze)? Do we skip having Thanksgiving dinner with extended family again?
We all want to be safe, enjoy one another, and get some well deserved down time – and pie.
It seems the biggest tragedy is COVID being so politicized that our conversations are STILL fraught with tension nearly a year after the election, and in the face of mounting scientific evidence about the risks of the coronavirus.
How do we create a bridge between ourselves and the divide that’s grown in our families, friendships, and communities?
I don’t know about you, but if I heard it once growing up, I’ll bet I heard it at least a 1000 times. “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
On the one hand, of course, that’s sage advice. One the other hand, damping down on conversations simply because someone else may find it uncomfortable, unsettling or unseemly doesn’t seem quite right either.
I mean, who wants to hurt cousin Mike’s feelings? Or, make auntie Sue feel isolated? Or, sit in silence at the table as our tempers simmer? This only leaves us feeling further unable to connect with one another in meaningful ways.
What are we to do? What are we willing to do?
Studies have shown that disconnection is on the rise and one in four Americans feel as though they have no one to talk to about personal concerns.
To give it perspective, this means about 82 million people in this nation feeling tragically alone. Disconnection had reached epidemic proportions even before the pandemic.
Loneliness hurts, quite literally, and is a risk factor for mortality. A brain imaging study showed that feeling ostracized activates our neural pain matrix (the place in our bodies where pain, hurt, loneliness are stored).
Strain on our social connections predicts vulnerability to disease and death above and beyond traditional risk factors such as obesity, smoking, blood pressure, and physical activity!
On the flip side, healthy social relationships are critical to our health and well-being, strengthen our immune system, help us recover from disease faster, and may increase longevity by 50%!
Without exception, we thrive in community, in connection, in giving and receiving love. It’s critical to our well-being.
Regardless of where you and your family land on the decision-making spectrum about how to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s important to remember a few things this season to build bridges over any divide.
Use your EARS
Listening involves encouraging others to talk, acknowledging (not agreeing with) their point of view, responding with generosity, and savoring the connection.
Instead of arguing, mocking, or denigrating others for expressing a different point of view, choose to see the best in the other.
Fear, life experiences, isolation, and overwhelm drive people to make choices that help them feel more in control. (Pssst…it’s not just them, you’re doing it too.)
Find ways to connect even if you’re not getting together: make that phone call, drop a snail mail card with a kind note, send a gift card, share a homemade treat, host a Zoom call for everyone on the holiday.
We can ALL agree that the gatherings we have across the country this Thanksgiving will require us to be intentional in how we connect.
Any efforts to connect with kindness and generosity will result in gratitude and good will that lasts beyond the holiday season.