Octo Observations: Diminishing Divisiveness

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday savored by families all over America. Travel is tricky, but most folks never mind the hassle if it means spending time with loved ones. Last weekend my hubby and I flew to Connecticut for an early celebration with our Westport son, his wife and youngest daughter…Saturday and Sunday we were joined by our Boston daughter, her married son, his wife and toddler daughter. So much fun, and a rarity for four generations under one roof. Thanks to iPhone photos and videos, plus group text messaging, our Seattle daughter and Virginia Beach son and families joined us.

Like so many families, our large one comes in all sizes, shapes and mindsets. We know it, we accept it, and we love each other all the more in spite of our differences. We are a mix of strong personalities, with energetic minds. Long ago, we agreed to have an unwritten agreement that some topics are totally off the table: And you can imagine which one is a “no-no”…especially these days. Amazing how refreshing it can be when we don’t slap the duct-tape over our mouths in order to have a meaningful conversation. With a toddler and two Habenese puppies to watch, it is not hard to be distracted.

Some of us are church goers, and some of us are not. No pressure either way…hence, the easy choice that those of us who wanted to go dashed off to our son’s historic Congregational church on Sunday morning. Being Stewardship Sunday as well as a few weeks from Thanksgiving, the sermon topic, “For the Love of God,” captured our attention. The minister, whom we knew and admired, began his sermon by sharing a few Thanksgiving Dinner statistics. A bit staggering even in today’s world.

Apparently, researchers have learned that in recent years the amount of time families sit together around the Thanksgiving dinner table has declined. Why? Because arguments develop. Sometimes, as the wine flows, filters fade. People are emboldened, opinionated, and forget good manners. Hard to believe, but probably not, considering the deeply divided climate in which we live. It seems society has become a little too casual. Manners do not always matter as much as they once did. Maybe we forget that each of us has the freedom to choose how we vote, how we worship or not, how we view the world. Yet, why disrespect those whose views we do not share? Perhaps, we feel TOO entitled to express our thoughts and beliefs without regard to someone else’s feelings. As a child, I remember my father’s mantra, “Never talk about religion or politics in mixed company.” And he never did. 

As I listened to Sunday’s sermon, a Thanksgiving message of my own evolved. After all, I represent the OLDEST generation of adults still living on this planet! And I still learn something new every day of these 81 years, with lots more yet to know…. So many thoughts tumbled through my mind. How do we refocus our thinking? How do we return to more considerate behavior? How do we help make each family or friend gathering free from any hint of rancor? How can each of us diminish divisiveness? Shouldn’t each of us take responsibility? After all, this current decline in decorum has not happened over night. It has morphed slowly throughout the last many years, until now few folks seem capable of putting on the brakes when thorny topics arise.

We are not born knowing how to argue. We are not born being rude or disrespectful of others. Bad behavior is acquired. Look at babies. Every infant arrives in this world without guile. If they receive loving attention, careful nurturing, they respond happily. Prejudice is not part of their DNA. 

Watching our little great granddaughter respond to her Connecticut and Virginia relatives was a delight. She took her time. The puppies, however, with their friendly yips, quickly captured toddler Evie’s attention. (After all, they were smaller than she.) While we suspected she might be timid, she was not. The puppies made her giggle, and within minutes they were fast friends. We loved how she took her mommy, daddy, or Grammy Allison’s fingers and led them around the house. One at a time. She felt safe. She knew they would not disappear. They were her security. As is expected. Slowly, deliberately, she explored the wonderful new space. She was eager to climb staircases, peek into rooms. Light fixtures were especially appealing as she gazed upwards and pointed with her little finger. “OOOOH.” Before long Evie and cousin Abby were cuddled on the couch, playing with stuffed animals. When the rest of us spoke to her or sang a silly jingle, she stopped, looked and listened. Going slowly is the answer with little ones.

Going slowly in general makes sense, doesn’t it… take time to test the terrain. Think first before speaking. Listen, watch, and learn before inserting oneself. Little ones have few words, yet facial expressions speak paragraphs. A slow smile after accepting a bite of apple or a goldfish cracker signals acceptance, a feeling of safety and comfort.  A lovely lesson to carry through to adulthood! We grownups think we are the ones to teach children, but actually, it is the other way around. Little peoples’ instincts are spot on. Their minds are clear, their needs are few, and their hearts are pure.

So, what has happened to get us to where we are now? How did we let ourselves become trapped by thoughtless, inconsiderate behavior on a national scale?  How did we, who are educated and privileged to live in a free and prosperous country, become consumed with insisting we are always right, believing we have all the answers, even at the expense of our loved ones’ feelings? How do we realign our thoughts to count our blessings rather than our differences? How do we gather together in harmony this Thanksgiving Day. Being humble and grateful that we are fed, alive and loved?

Life is a journey as well as a puzzle. From birth to death we are presented with a jumble of pieces to fit into the framed picture of our mind. We can’t leap in and figure it out all at once. It takes patience. It takes concentration. It takes determination.  And most of all, it takes understanding as to best way to proceed. Start with the edges. Establish the borders. Gradually, add one piece at a time. The effort, though at times tedious, will be rewarding. Because…. If we are lucky, before we die, we will end up with most all the pieces in the right place. For me and others, faith in God (or a higher power) helps complete the puzzle. We cannot do it alone.

No one person, no matter how well intended, can heal divisiveness. But each of us can do our part. And if each one of us makes a concerted effort, together we will achieve positive results. Simplify expectations. Call upon the Golden Rule. Use your experience, your common sense and your respect for our individual rights to believe as we do. Control your need to inflict your opinions. Love each other as you would wish to be loved yourself.

At the risk of sounding like a LOL (“little old lady”), may we gather around every Thanksgiving table with a grateful heart.  Gratitude for the blessings that surround us eclipses shadows of disagreement or doubt. Drinking from the “cup half full” fills us with hope and happiness. With love in our hearts we each have the power to lift a glass half full rather than half empty. If this sounds Pollyanna-ish, it is, but it is also true!

Thus, as we travel near or far this week to celebrate Thanksgiving with family or friends, let us be catalysts for change. The prophetic Indian philosopher of the last century, Mahatma Gandhi offered endless wisdom, wrapped in simple language and, to me, interpreted as solutions to diminish divisiveness…he said: 

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

 And lastly, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

With love and blessings to each of you on this joyous Thanksgiving Day.

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Photo: Bigstock