Nicole Havelka Consulting
in Change Leadership - Community - Creativity - Healing - Mindfulness

Thanksgiving Table Questions that Turn Judgement Into Wonder

A Graphic with the words: Stop. Be Grateful. Ask a Question. Surrounded by flowers and leaves and the Nicole Havelka Consulting Logo.

For the past few years on Thanksgiving, I’ve watched Brother David-Steindel-Rast’s Ted Talk about gratitude and happiness. He simply and elegantly points out that every moment is a gift for which to be grateful. Can you be grateful for everything that happens in every moment? No. Absolutely not. But, you can be grateful for some element of each and every experience.

Our 2020 Thanksgiving is truly a practice in gratitude. How can we possibly be grateful for this dumpster fire of a year, you might be understandably wondering. We’ve all lost so much in this pandemic, this racial reckoning, and now the holidays not celebrated in familiar, comforting ways. You may even be dealing with your difficult uncle or nosey cousin, or politically opinionated father, via Zoom rather than in person. Seriously, gratitude for that?

Yes. As Brother Steindel-Rast said, you cannot be grateful for everything that happens, but you can be grateful for every moment. If you were grateful for the moment in which that irritating or even offensive comment was made by a family member, you might turn the moment into an opportunity to learn about them, to ask a question.

On a retreat that I attended years ago, one of the behavioral guidelines we were asked to live by was this, “When your mind turns to judgement, turn instead to wonder.” If you feel frustration, disgust or despair erupt like bile in your throat when you hear someone else’s statement – Stop. Be grateful for the moment and the opportunity it presents. Then ask a question. (Watch my short video about asking said questions from my Mindful Monday practice.)

To aid in this quest, my friend and fellow trauma-informed yoga instructor, Bailey Fullwiler, MSSA, LSW, collaborated on this list of questions and prompts for conversation. Pick one or two of them that seem most natural to you and have them ready for the next difficult or awkward conversation that you encounter.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • A good prompt for self-reflection: What would it mean if the feedback I am receiving is true (or partially true)?
  • What is the intention of our conversation (to understand, to prove a point, to educate, to explore, etc)?

Questions for conversation:

  • Ask questions that start with “How might we …. move forward in a different way? Have holidays together with our current restrictions? …
  • Why do you think/feel/believe that way?
  • What experience have you had that led you to think/feel/believe that? What was that experience like for you?
  • What is something that you are grateful for about the experience you’re recalling?
  • Tell me more about that … (always a good go-to prompt)
  • What is important to you (in this conversation, in this relationship, more broadly in the world)? Why?
  • If we removed the work privilege, red/blue, democrat/republican, what would this conversation be like? 
  • Which of your values are guiding your words and actions in this conversation?
  • Tell me about a time when those values got formed for you …
  • In what ways could we celebrate or respect each other’s boundaries this holiday season?
  • What do you need to feel safe and supported right now? Over the holiday season?
  • What is the intention of our conversation (to understand, to prove a point, to educate, to explore, etc)?
  • If we work up tomorrow, and all the world’s suffering was removed, how would it have happened and what would that look like?

Bailey and I hope these questions for reflection and conversation help make your conversations a tool for building relationships, even with those with whom you disagree. This practice has truly been a life- and relationship-changing one for me. I hope it does for you.

With all this work of asking hard questions and listening to the answers you might feel a little tired after Thanksgiving (and this whole year.) Join me for my Alternative Black Friday Yoga/Meditation Session at 12 PM ET on Friday, Nov. 27. Free, but please register.

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