Avoiding Holiday Arguments

One of the keys to a happy holiday is steering clear of family conflicts whenever possible. Discussions about politics, religion, and decades-old sibling rivalries are best left alone when folks are trying to enjoy a little Christmas cheer, but sometimes things can get tense.

To keep the peace and spare the day, two Vanderbilt University philosophy professors, Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse, are offering advice from their new book, Why We Argue (and How We Should): A Guide to Political Disagreement.

When touchy topics cannot be avoided, the authors suggest we “improve our skill at making arguments in ways that allow for better, more reasoned exchange.”

They recommend these tips:

  • When a family member says something awful, try to remember that reasonable and intelligent people disagree about important matters. Does the argument rise to that standard?
  • Should you get into it, acknowledge the good points your family member makes as the discussion continues — even if you disagree with her.
  • Consider the other person’s viewpoint. What would it take to make you change your mind? What evidence would make your opinion wrong?
  • Be able to articulate the best arguments against your viewpoint. In other words, admit the existence of other reasonable perspectives.

“Acknowledging the opposition’s good points and seeing troubles for your own side is too often taken to be a sign of weakness,” Aikin said in a Vanderbilt interview. “But it’s that attitude that actually makes argumentative exchange so unpleasant. Instead, these habits make exchanges more reasonable and productive.”

And remember, it’s Christmas: a time for peace on earth — and at the dinner table — and goodwill toward all.

(Photo: Ron Levine/GettyImages)

(Photo: Ron Levine/GettyImages)

Two Reasons to Put Down that Smartphone

If you are constantly flipping through your emails, even when you’re away from your desk, give it a rest. A new study reports that checking email more than three times a day increases stress levels. Other new research reports that moms who use smartphones at the dinner table have 20 percent fewer verbal and 39 percent fewer non-verbal interactions with their children. Bottom line: turn off your phone and give yourself and your family a break.