Dinner Time

Since it’s Mother’s Day, this observation about family time by Jill at Feministe struck home (and is probably familiar to more than a few readers):

Dinnertime conversation isn’t something I ever thought about until I was midway through college and realized that not every family sits down, spends a few minutes summarizing their day, and then gets into heated discussions about politics and law and religion and morality and ethics. The idea that discussing politics was “rude” was… not the rule in my family. And TV during dinner? Not a chance (my mother still gets a little salty at the fact that my roommate and I, despite being civilized ladies who regularly cook for each other and uncork a good bottle of wine, often eat our nutritious home-cooked-with-love meals in front of the TV, instead of sitting at the dining room table and having a proper meal). Even when I go home, still, a sit-down meal and a long discussion is a non-negotiable. The TV gets turned off. We don’t answer the phone. There are no cell phones allowed at the table. There isn’t a structured conversation — we just talk. And since I come from a family of political junkies, the conversation inevitably turns to politics; since I also come from a family of people who like to push boundaries and challenge each other, the conversation inevitably turns into an argument. No one yells — we aren’t a yelling family — but voices get raised and sarcasm gets thrown around and even though we’re all lefty liberals we get deep into it.

And then we clean up and we watch some CNN and we all move on with our lives. It never occurred to me that dinner-time arguments over, say, farming subsidies or the proper legal treatment of child molesters could create lasting wounds or ongoing anger. Which is maybe why it’s taken me years to figure out that in the blogosphere, you can’t come at someone hard in a comment section and expect that they understand you’re challenging them because you respect them and find their views interesting, and that they will respond to your challenges and heated critiques with the same, and you’ll both walk away still liking each other and not thinking much about it beyond, “Well that was an interesting discussion.” Most people just think you’re a flame-throwing asshole. I blame my parents.

I think it has less to do with vigorous debate among relatives, and more to do with a belief that politics is out of bounds for discussion. Part of that has to do with the rising tide of wackaloonery: there are some people you really don’t want to discuss politics with at all. And, of course, we should remember that a lot of people just don’t find politics interesting at all

Since it’s Mother’s Day, I’ll just blame my father.

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