The Takeaway From 'The Takeaway': Five Easy Subject Changes to Avoid Thanksgiving Fights

Today on Public Radio International's morning show, The Takeaway, host John Hockenberry, Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, and I discussed how to avoid family fights during Thanksgiving. As I mentioned on the show, some amount of discord may be inevitable this year: from health care to climate change to gay rights, we're living in a particularly political time.

Like in War Games, the only way to win a political argument amongst relatives is not to play. But while you can head into Thanksgiving dinner determined to avoid any conversations about sensitive topics, you can't count on other members of your family to do the same. So if you want to keep the peace, you have a choice: you can either halfheartedly agree with whatever offensive (to you) nonsense (to you) that Aunt Sally is spewing, or you can try to artfully change the subject.

Of course, you could challenge Aunt Sally directly on her views about climate change, health-care reform, or whether or not H1N1 is a global conspiracy perpetrated by the pharmaceutical companies. Some families love nothing more than battling it out over turkey and mashed potatoes. For those who don't, we've provided a list of five all-important holiday dodges to get you from a dangerous topic to a less offensive one, still guaranteed to elicit a lot of opinions:

1) Health Care: Health care is not only incredibly complex and divisive, it can lead to discussions of an even more volatile topic, abortion. Instead, try to steer any medical conversations toward Charla Nash, the women who was brutally injured in a chimp attack. Nash's tragic story incorporates elements of health and medicine—she's currently living at the Cleveland Clinic full time, hoping for a face transplant; in the mean time she's relearning how to live without hands or a face. There's enough in her story to keep your family talking for hours.

2) Gay Rights: When someone starts to discuss the fight for gay marriage, talk about Adam Lambert: his humble beginnings on American Idol; his guy-on-guy kiss at the American Music Awards. By keeping the topic in the realm of pop culture, you may actually be able to have a low-stakes debate about gay rights. As Lambert himself pointed out, women have been performing similar stunts at award shows for years. Is this different? Discuss. And when things get too heated, switch to comparing the merits of Ellen vs. Paula.

3) Sarah Palin: No matter how people feel about Palin, credulity that Levi Johnston is somehow still something of a celebrity is a point on which most Americans can unite. Bring up his Playgirl spread and watch the conversation go from politics to pornography.

4) Barack Obama: President Obama is a unique position to anger both liberals and conservatives, both of whom feel he's on the wrong path. Michelle Obama, with a 63 percent approval rating, is a much safer subject. And her initiatives as first lady are all family friendly: starting a garden, supporting military families, wearing Banana Republic and J. Crew on a public stage.

5) The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: No matter how you feel about the war, you have to respect the service of the men and women serving overseas. Focus on that—then show your family the amazing online videos of soldiers reuniting with their dogs after serving a tour of duty:

6) Climate Change: Al Gore's recent appearance on 30 Rock will only lead to debates about whether Gore is an eco-savior or a false prophet and whether 30 Rock is still funny. Instead, bring up the meteorological styling of the tornado-chasing, Balloon-Boy-launching Henne family. Not only will everyone have something to say, chances are their family will make you appreciate how normal yours really is.

This is not how we recommend behaving every other day of the year. It's important to stand up for your beliefs and to be able to defend those beliefs articulately. But Thanksgiving is a different story: the level of discourse never gets beyond arguing over the very basic facts (Obama: Secret Muslim or not?), and very rarely will you change someone's mind over dinner.

Of course, if you are gay, or Sarah Palin, or a solider, it may be impossible not to get passionate—and personal—before the turkey is even out of the oven. But save for those situations, it's probably not worth taking on your sweet, frail, and totally sexist 86-year-old grandfather in a battle of oratory skill.

In other words: feel free to stand up for what you really believe in, but don't try to be a hero. Accept your family for the lovable, well-intentioned, ill-informed bunch that they are, pour another glass of wine, and try to make it through the night unscathed.

When all else fails? Mention Twilight and let your teenage cousin do the rest.

The Takeaway From 'The Takeaway': Five Easy Subject Changes to Avoid Thanksgiving Fights | News