Family – Amiright? (The Curiosity Cure)
It’s the week leading up to the most anticipated holiday of the year! Yes, indeed, Thanksgiving has now taken the top spot in popularity here in the United States. For many people (as recent surveys suggest, around 79% of Americans), this holiday offers precious moments to spend with family and friends. It’s a heartwarming thought, isn’t it? Well, mostly. Unfortunately, amidst the backdrop of our current world of deepening social and political divides, these gatherings can sometimes spark tension, even contempt. But there’s a remedy: genuine curiosity.
Let’s begin by addressing the issue of contempt. It’s a natural emotion, sure, but does it truly serve any meaningful purpose, aside from potentially boosting our own egos by reaffirming our beliefs? As Dr. Arthur Brooks wisely points out, “contempt makes persuasion impossible—no one has ever been convinced by being hated, after all. Expressing contempt is either a petty form of self-indulgence or a shallow attempt at virtue signaling, neither of which leads to understanding or agreement.” Is that how we want to spend our cherished holiday time?
So, removing the contempt card from the table is a positive first step, perhaps with a little self-reflection or a gentle nudge from an understanding spouse or friend who’s in on the plan. But what comes next? Just as in our pursuit of good health and wellness, the solution doesn’t stop when we eliminate a negative (like deciding not to indulge in break room donuts). Instead, the effective approach is to actively pursue the positive (e.g., choosing a handful of almonds as an afternoon snack). The same principle applies to your Thanksgiving dinner conversations.
As an example, when political differences arise, instead of rehashing the same old talking points, try approaching the situation with genuine curiosity. Pose a question along the lines of, “I’d love to hear your perspective on why you support ______ (their favorite candidate) based on things most of us haven’t heard before.” Then, simply sit back and listen with genuine curiosity.
Don’t interrupt, don’t argue, and don’t dismiss. Just listen and see what you can learn through the conversation. How can this enrich me as a person? What’s intriguing about their viewpoint? What new insights might I have overlooked in the past? Thoughtful follow-up questions (and remember, they should never start with “but…”) can expand the conversation and foster deeper connections. You might even find that when you let your guard down and truly listen, the other person begins to do the same.
Life certainly does have its share of clear-cut answers, but they are a rarity. The majority of our discussions revolve around opinions, thoughts, and ideas. While we all tend to believe our own opinions are right, the truth is we all wear different sets of blinders. Perhaps this Thanksgiving, we can leave the table with fresh insights and stronger bonds.