11/21/2017 10:52 EST | Updated 11/21/2017 14:03 EST

How To Turn Bickering Into Bonding At The Holiday Dinner Table

These questions will turn your meal from a political battlefield into a priceless opportunity for fun and understanding.

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The holiday dinner is prepared. The table is set, the family's dressed, the guests are on the way, and you're looking forward to a grand evening.

Spin forward a couple of hours. The conversation has drifted into politics, or gun control, our health system, the environment, or anything else that seems to force normally nice folks to the edges, to the swings of the pendulum where opinions are strong, facts are loose, everyone's talking, and few are listening. Like a family CNN panel.

If left untended, some may revert from their best behaviour and insist on turning the holiday table into their own soapbox. And you sit helplessly as your dinner table devolves into a political battlefield.

But I know there is a way to turn this year's Christmas and Hanukkah dinners into priceless opportunities for laughter, listening and learning new things about friends and family members. There is a way to replace those tears of frustration with tears of joy.

If left untended, some may revert from their best behaviour and insist on turning the holiday table into their own soapbox.

First, a story. We were meeting two friends a short flight away at their seaside home for a New Year's long weekend. We would cook fabulous meals, sample some adult beverages, and maybe get a little exercise.

But I wanted our conversations to be different. We should get to know each other better, tell some meaningful stories, and recognize that we can talk openly and safely. Oh... laugh, cry, and love the process too.

We drafted eight questions each of us would answer. These questions seemed simple enough, but as we began, each answer took us places we didn't expect.

I'll tell you the questions in a minute. But first, here are the rules:

  • You don't have to answer any question if you don't want to.
  • Be truthful and tell your story.
  • You can take as long as you want.
  • When you're finished with your answer, you don't have to answer queries from the table.

OK, the questions. The first four are about the past:

  1. A movie that affected me.
    (This isn't your favourite movie. It's one that 'affected' you, and still does.)
  2. A book that affected me.
  3. A person that affected me.
  4. An event that affected me.

    And now the future:
  5. A skill I will learn.
  6. An experience I'm determined to have.
  7. The effect I want to have on my family, my workplace, my community, or the world.
  8. A prediction I'll make.

On this special weekend with our friends, there were plenty of tears and laughter. It took three days for the four of us to answer these eight questions.

Someone at your table might say "This is stupid. I'm not going to play." But if they listen to others' heartfelt stories, I'll bet you a candy cane they'll ask to answer one of the eight questions, or admit "I wish I joined you."

Mostly, you'll learn about each other. Imagine having all at your table answer just one of these questions. I know you'll hear "I didn't know that about you" — over and over.

Or, you can bring out the soapbox and get right into the "I'm right and you're wrong!" warmth of occasional holiday conversation. Over to you.

Oh... my book? Lord of the Flies.

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