What I Learned From Thanksgivings Spent Deployed: A Veteran’s Thoughts on Tolerance



It seems as though every magazine I’ve picked up in the last few weeks have at least one article dedicated to how to grit through or plain avoid spending Thanksgiving with family members. It seems strange to me, given that so many of us were forced to be apart from those we love due to COVID the last few years.

So why the desire to read articles on how to power through family dinners as if it’s a root canal or avoid them altogether? Our political differences are now not just causing divisions in DC, but at the dinner table as well.

There are plenty of reasons to find family holiday get-togethers painful. Everyone has at least one uncle or cousin that drinks a little too much or a family member’s spouse who is about as exciting or annoying as a paper straw – but this rift goes far beyond just putting up with your neurotic inlaws.

Wait, You Voted For Who?!

Familial political divisions are not unique to the 2000s. One merely has to recall the time of the ‘make peace not war’ hippies that more than likely caused a bit of tension over the yearly Thanksgiving Tofurkey. 

But something seems to be different this time; it seems to be much more virulent. The New York Times conducted a poll with Sienna College last month that had some interesting results.

The poll found that 19% of registered voters have had relationships and friendships damaged over political disagreements. However, it gets illuminating when that number is broken out by political affiliation.

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Independents and Democrats were more likely to report relationship issues than Republicans with the break out below:

  • Independents – 21%
  • Democrats – 20%
  • Republicans – 14%

How is it that the individuals considered the more tolerant and the more open to new ideas seem to struggle the most with people who oppose them?

Tolerant Intolerance

Hypocrisy is my biggest pet peeve. Unfortunately, professionally and personally, it has been my experience that those who broadcast their tolerance tend to be the most intolerant people you will ever know.

What is it about liberals that make them so closed-minded? Honestly, it starts in early adulthood.

As youth head off to college and university, where they should be exposed to a cornucopia of ideas and concepts. That’s when minds start to be molded into liberal compliance as opposed to critical thinkers who push boundaries. Year after year, there are reports of conservative speakers and groups being shut out of universities because of outrage.

What do these institutions find so outrageous? That there could be different spectrums of thought in the world that could steer their flock toward the wrong way of thinking. 

When the foundation of your adult education has taught you only one way of thinking in an echo chamber, it becomes much easier to cut those friends and family with whom you no longer agree out of your life.

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You see, I was taught that if someone disagreed with me politically, they were merely wrong or had a different life experience than I did. However, plenty of my former friends and family who are more left of center than I don’t just think I’m wrong; they think of me as pure evil.

You’re A Bad Person

Journalist Aaron Rupar tweeted recently:

“If you attend a Trump rally earnestly — not as a reporter, for instance — you are a bad person. I really don’t think there are any exceptions.”

Think about that for a second. This guy thinks that anybody, without knowing anything about them on a deeper personal level, who attends a Trump event, is a “bad” person.

It used to be that bad people were defined by what they did to others. Bad people purposely hurt others, wish ill, and lack empathy with others. 

Not anymore. In the NYT poll from earlier, almost half of respondents said that they believed political views reflected whether a person was good or bad. 

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When did we get to a point where we associated human decency with political views? Tania Israel, who is a professor at the University of California, explains:

“We want to be surrounded by people who believe the same things because of the meaning that those things have for us.”

That statement alone is a perfect argument for why joining the military can be a blessing after high school.

Comfortable With Uncomfortable

I spent a lot of holidays away from home, most of them, to be fair. Being in the military for 20 years, I was often either deployed, too broke to travel, or stationed overseas.

I spent a lot of holidays with other service members with a wide plethora of backgrounds and beliefs, eating lukewarm turkey and what we called ‘near beer’ in chow halls around the globe. Joining the military forced me to learn to listen to people with different backgrounds than me, learn to live with them, and in many cases, learn to trust them with my life.

I can tell you we rarely talked politics at the chow hall table. Instead, we usually talked about all the things we missed about home, and 99% of the time, it was our family.

You learn to appreciate the family members that drive you a little insane when you are faced with the possibility of never seeing them again. But we powered through those holidays and found comfort with each other’s company even though we were not family by blood, but by service.

You adapt when you wear the uniform and learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Like sharing a workspace the size of a closet with a guy from the other side of the country from you who believes in a different God than you do, let alone a political party.

It has become too easy to hurt one another, to cut one another down, and to erase one another from the dinner table. We could all use a Thanksgiving or two in a chow hall breaking bread with those who look and think differently than us. 

I miss the ‘near beer’ and rock-hard stuffing a bit; those were fond Thanksgivings spent with a family that didn’t care that I was a Republican. Happy Thanksgiving to the men and women in uniform away from their families this year.

I pray that your dinner table is full when you can come home, regardless of political affiliations. 

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