Thanksgiving approaches. The supermarkets are jam packed with people who behave as if they have never shopped for groceries before, and Twitter is full of people who behave as if they’ve never had a meal with someone who doesn’t share their political views.
Regarding the meal, @poniewozik tweeted: “A thing I love about this country is it invented a holiday where millions of amateur cooks have to prepare a freakishly large bird. Like, the same country where people buy pre-made PBJ sandwiches, ONE TIME a year they have to figure out how to roast basically a dinosaur.”
Regarding the company, my friend @erika, the author of Just Enough Research, has it nailed: “Heading out to see your family this week? Don’t fight with them. Study them!” She suggests, if the conversation starts to head south, this magical phrase: “Tell me more about that.”
Say nothing else. Do not argue. Keep quietly sipping your beverage… All the research shows that facts are powerless in the face of contradictory beliefs. You will not win the argument. You have a better chance that Second Cousin Rick will talk himself out of his own theory if he talks long enough.
In the words of Oliver Sacks, pretend you’re an anthropologist on Mars.
Perhaps this perspective comes easiest for writers. (Czeslaw Milosz: “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.”) In Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner write that the “anthropological perspective” is exactly what a good education is supposed to provide you. “[It] allows one to be part of his own culture and, at the same time, to be out of it. One views the activities of his own group as would an anthropologist, observing its tribal rituals, its fears, its conceits…”
But the anthropological perspective is not just for surviving Thanksgiving! It’s a way of surviving all sorts of situations involving people who are being assholes. Here’s a trick for cultivating the proper detachment the perspective requires, from Bob Sutton, author of The Asshole Survival Guide:
I’ve got this colleague who does this astounding thing: He pretends when he’s in a meeting and there’s a really nasty person, what he does to detach is he pretends he’s a Doctor of Assholeism. And he says to himself, instead of getting upset, “I’m so lucky to have this fabulous specimen! To be so close up! I just can’t believe it!”
Good luck, my fellow anthropologists! I’ll be at home in my pajamas.