How to fight with your relatives over the Thanksgiving Dinner table.

I’ve thought for years about writing a Thanksgiving story — a feast-become-food-fight of ideas over the dinner table — but I’ve never done it. Too much too close for comfort perhaps. Meanwhile, I will give you something to be thankful for, this Thanksgiving and every day, that no one else is likely to mention:

Be grateful for your own fundamental solitude.

You are in this all alone. You were born alone and you will die alone, and the truth of the uniquely human life is that you spend every moment of your life alone. You share what you can with those you love, but when you keep your own counsel, you do it all alone. When you assert your truth in defiance of the mob, you do it all alone. When you bite your tongue to keep the peace, you do it all alone.

Your self — your self-abstracted idea of your life — is the cardinal value of your life, the one that endures as all other values come and go. You are sovereign and indomitable, the sole champion of your triumphs and the sole author of your errors.

You can’t fix your relatives. Alike unto you, they are sovereign and indomitable. I like to say that we get to be who we are, but the truth of the matter is still more stark: Each one of us is going to be who he or she is, no matter what.

You can try to persuade other people of the truth of your ideas, but this is a slow process, one fraught with frequent failures. The only immediate change you can make to other people is to change them from alive to dead — a lesson our statist overlords never tire of teaching us. That unhappy fact suggests a simple strategy for post-prandial political debates — and for casual conflicts of all types: If it’s not something you would fight about to the death, it’s probably not worth fighting about at all.

My attitude always: Cultivate indifference. I will not make the world more beautiful by making my own soul ugly. If I don’t care for the turn of conversation at the dinner table, there is always something fun to hear about at the kid’s table. And I will be free to flee in very short order, anyway.

Thanksgiving Day will end, but your relationship with your self will last for your whole life, and your recollections of this day and every day of your life will call themselves to your conscious attention unbidden, again and again, welcome or not.

You’re in this all alone. If you make unhappy memories today while failing to sway your relatives even as you scar your lifelong relationships with them, this will be your fault and yours alone. But if instead you reach for Splendor wherever you can find it, you will make the best of a day that should always have been about nothing but the best the truly human life has to offer.

Looked at my way, it really is an easy choice, isn’t it? Here’s to a Happy Thanksgiving!

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  • I’m incredibly grateful for having had a wonderful family. My mother was my best friend, and demonstrated the highest level of rational, non-aggressive commitment to love and life.

    I have few memories of arguments, fights or verbal/emotional attacks at family gatherings. And all of those I do remember were from inlaws and others with whom we had limited interaction anyway.

    After 66 years of life, I think that’s remarkable.

    It is said you can choose your friends, but not your relatives. I decided long ago to put the lie to that one and seriously avoid any “relative” who was hateful or otherwise destructive of peace and joy.

    Life is entirely too short to put up with that kind of crap from anyone.

    I had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year. My extended “family” here in Wyoming (none of them related by blood) kidnapped me and took me to dinner elsewhere. I was not allowed to cook or clean anything… and it was a bit strange to be an honored guest instead of the hostess – but it could easily grow on me. 🙂 Age has it’s definite up side sometimes.

    • Ah, good on ya!

      It is said you can choose your friends, but not your relatives. I decided long ago to put the lie to that one and seriously avoid any “relative” who was hateful or otherwise destructive of peace and joy.

      Life is entirely too short to put up with that kind of crap from anyone.

      I agree. Your relatives are people you’ve known a long time. You might grant them a greater indulgence on that basis, but there are limits to everything.

      Glad you had a great Thanksgiving.

  • seaart

    Hi Greg, you wrote: “You can try to persuade other people of the truth of your ideas, but this is a slow process, one fraught with frequent failures.”

    I can identify with this, but on a few occasions I have influenced people in a appreciable way when I wasn’t even conciously trying! This suggests to me although it can often be a losing battle the reverse is also true and an instant acceptance of any idea is possible, if only I could guess to which people this would apply I would try ‘less’ hard around them.

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  • Language Usage

    “You were born alone and you will die alone”

    How do you figure? Wasn’t your mom there at your birth? Your dad? The doctor? The midwife?

    Most people don’t die all alone either.

    Its a cliche phrase that makes zero sense.

  • Empress Searcy

    Greg, love your 11/26 essay. It says it all.