Back in My Day: Don’t debate with your mouth full, or at all

A drawing of two people sitting at opposite ends of a table with a Turkey in the middle.
(Zoe Beach | Daily Trojan)

I’m exhausted — that’s the lede. 

Simply put, I’m ready to close my computer after my last class on Tuesday and sit back knowing I have a few days to spend with my friends and rest a bit. But, in my heart, I know that my Mom will text me and tell me to save that Thursday for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. 

My family has always been a bit unorthodox when it comes to these dinners, grabbing tacos, Korean barbecue or Thai food in previous years instead of the traditional turkey and gravy. 

Regardless, this dinner presents an opportunity to get the whole “pamilya” together. 

Whether you’re a commuter who spends late nights on campus or a student far from home, opportunities to have dinner with your entire family may have dramatically dwindled to the equivalent of a fat goose egg. Friendsgiving aside, this upcoming Thanksgiving dinner may be the first time you get to see your family since they let you loose in Los Angeles for a few months. 

If you choose to celebrate it, you probably know these dinners can sometimes get a bad rap. The young liberal and the older conservative may go at each other while passing mashed potatoes, bickering on a spectrum of topics from masks to participation trophies. 

So, before you choose to relegate yourself to the kids table and wish you had just stayed at USC, breathe a bit. 

Let’s be realistic while we’re at it. In 2017, a poll conducted by PBS Newshour, Marist and NPR found that over 58% of Americans “dread the thought” of discussing politics during dinner. Conducted the following year, a CBS News poll of more than 1,000 adults across the country showed that only 15% looked forward to “discussing politics” and more than 40% actively wanted to avoid it. 

“But, Lois,” you, the inquisitive and burnt out reader, say. “I get the data stuff, but so much has happened since 2018. What about the literal pandemic we’re currently in? Wouldn’t those topics pop up in conversation and offset debates?” 

As we have seen on several social media outlets, the Daily Trojan Instagram among them, the coronavirus is a touchy and politicized subject that polarized us. In a practical sense, and from a personal standpoint, I’m generally tired of all the coronavirus chat and the negativity in the air. Attending USC nowadays is pretty tough, with controversy after controversy detracting from what it means to be a part of the so-called “Trojan Family.” 

Before I digress too much, I’ll get off my soapbox and defer any discussion regarding good mental health to other editorial columnists and staffers.

With everyone hopefully vaccinated or masked, families should be able to celebrate Thanksgiving like the pre-pandemic days, in larger groups. Given that we can share a meal with those who are still around, we should be coming back home with a sense of relief and humility. 

It seems counterintuitive to bicker over the type of vaccine we got — if at all — or anything incredibly sensitive in nature. While certainly problematic in its history and origin, Thanksgiving can still be an ample time to appreciate living despite the pandemic. 

But, say, through the powers beyond our control, the local high school decided to host its annual debate tournament at your dinner table on Thanksgiving, and you’re up to give the opening opposition statement. My evil alter ego, Lewis, wants you to go absolutely berserk. 

However, interestingly enough, my realist and practical side still wants you to respond, but maybe without the “berserk” part. In this day and age, accessibility of information gives us a sense of personal authority, which induces a god complex on certain topics. We inherently hate to be wrong. 

Challenging a relative’s thoughts in an hour-long discussion, if it comes to it, may ultimately just end with nothing productive. An individual’s thoughts and perspectives often still linger, even if we mention data and statistics in conversation. 

Here’s a sort of personal rulebook: Keep your arguments succinct, objective and civil, and be ready to defer or shut it down. That’s it. 

Enjoy being at home with your family. Finals are right around the corner, and then it’s off to the holidays and another new year — scary, right? You could talk about the new friends you’ve made, the old classmates you met for the first time, the classes you enjoyed, the exes you got over, the music you listened to and much more. 

With those you trust at home, talk about the friends you lost, the classmates you wish you had met, the reasons you wanted to switch out your major, the relationships that fell through and the music you listened to before crying yourself to sleep. 

Don’t make this Thanksgiving more stressful for yourself than it needs to be. You deserve the break — we all do. But when I’m cutting the turkey or getting tacos with my grandchildren a few Thanksgivings down the line, I’ll think back and say, “Back in my day…”

Lois Angelo is a junior writing about the timeless lessons learned from older adults. He is also an associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Back in My Day,” ran every other Friday.