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With the holiday season upon us, you may be fantasizing about how wonderful it will feel to prepare and share delicious feasts with your family. Perhaps you visualize your Pottery Barn-inspired dining room table surrounded by loved ones who stop laughing just long enough to savor each bite of your grandmother’s apple pie. At some point, everyone holds hands and each person expresses gratitude. It’s a dream come true, and your heart fills with joy.
Then your mind screeches like a record, and your heart sinks. Reality starts playing instead of this fantasy. You remember that your uncle always brings up politics, and his political views are the complete opposite of your spouse’s. Your grandma will no doubt ask if you’ve gained weight. Your niece complains about the cranberry sauce every year, and your friend’s teenaged son refuses to set down his smart phone during dinner.
How do you steer the conversation at the feast to focus on the good? Start with compassion. It’s a topic everyone—across the generations—can understand and relate to. The trick is making sure you bring up the subject skillfully.
Here are some ideas for bringing compassion to the table:
1. Start the Meal Off on a Compassionate Note
Whether your family tradition includes saying a blessing before each meal or not, invite your guests to join you in a silent and mindful pause. Here’s a sample script you can use to set an intention for your meal:
“I invite you to join me in closing our eyes for a moment of gratitude. Let’s first take a deep inhale and pay close attention to what we notice.” (brief pause)
“Let’s feel grateful for this delicious-smelling food in front of us.” (brief pause)
“Let’s also notice how it feels to be surrounded by our loved ones. I invite you to tune into feelings of gratitude for this nourishment … and for each other.” (pause)
“Let’s appreciate all who contributed to this beautiful feast, from the farmers who grew the crops needed for this meal to the chef who skillfully prepared it for us.” (brief pause)
“May we use this time together to not only enjoy this meal, but also as an expression of compassion and gratitude for each other and for those throughout our community and world.”
2. Invite Everyone to Consider Compassion
As a conversation starter, ask guests to share (if they are willing) a memory of compassion. They can share either a time when they gave or received compassion. Invite them to elaborate and share how their stories make them feel. You can be the first one to speak so that everyone understands the prompt.
3. Politely Interject with Compassion
If you see a storm brewing between guests, try to skillfully interrupt and invite them to experiment with compassion. Ask them to consider that every person has a unique way of looking at the world, and no one needs to be “right.”
4. Offer Everyone a Gift
At each place setting, include a token that promotes compassionate behaviors, try one of these ideas:
- Place a small framed quote about compassion at the top of each plate.
- Create a simple craft that can represent compassion. Try painting hearts on smooth stones or use leaves to make a heart.
- Give everyone a pair of COMPASSION IT wristbands, which flip from one side to the other side each time you “compassion it.”
Even if your compassionate experiments backfire, you can view it as an opportunity to practice self-compassion. Keep in mind that many share your same holiday stresses, and you are not alone. Pat yourself on the back for your compassionate intentions, for who knows? Perhaps by baking compassion into your meal, you’ll start a new holiday tradition.
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