How to win a Thanksgiving Day argument

John Dickerson wrote an entertaining piece about how to win your Thanksgiving Day fight. Dickerson’s piece centers on politics, which is his field of expertise. On his weekly podcast, he explained that his father would go so far to assign red and blue cups to his guests in order to identify their political leaning.



As an experienced combatant of Thanksgiving Day fights, my strategy for winning falls along one of two lines:

  1. Reinforce a winner
  2. Sacrifice and retreat

Allow me to illustrate each stratagem.

A few years ago a vociferous argument erupted at the Thanksgiving dinner table over the state of the economy and the reasons for the economic downturn. As with most debates, I chose to remain silent, waiting as battle lines were drawn and positions were staked out. When it became clear to me that my father-in-law was the only person at the table who knew what he was talking about but stood alone against an army of overly emotional combatants who had no fundamental understanding of credit default swaps, toxic assets and the true causes of the banking collapse (they were blaming the entirety of the crisis on media hype), I decided to enter the fray, bolstering my father-in-law’s side with facts and data that illustrated the lack of fundamental economic understanding on the opposing side.

Hence my strategy of reinforcing a winner.

A couple years ago my father-in-law took a familiar stand against the violence of the NFL, declaring that in twenty years we would be watching a bastardized version of flag football. This is a position that he has staked out many times with me, and occasionally I allow myself to be drawn into the fray. Last year,  however, I quickly saw the battle lines being drawn, with my father-in-law and my brother-in-law’s father taking up positions against the violence of today’s game and my brother-in-law choosing to oppose them.

Though I do not believe my father-in-law is correct in his predictions about the the future of the NFL, I am also smart enough to avoid taking up positions against two older, wiser men on Thanksgiving.

So instead of fighting, I took a couple small steps into the fray, saying just enough to draw my brother-in-law into the fight before retreating to the kitchen to baste the turkey and make myself scarce. For the next fifteen minutes, the old men hammered away at younger man, armed with their years of wit and wisdom. Only once did I reenter the battle, and only then to remind my father-in-law that shouting does not enhance the overall quality of a person’s argument.

Hence my strategy of sacrifice and retreat.

Better to live and fight another day. And in doing so, I managed to catalog a laundry list of arguments and counterpoints that my father-in-law may use against me in the future. All of this may seem a little over-the-top and unnecessarily complex given the circumstances, but it was halftime.

It’s not like I was missing the game.