This is November 23 2022, the day before Thanksgiving. And I found myself this morning sympathizing with people, many of us who will be meeting relatives or friends who are not used to hanging with, especially sitting down at Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with friends and family and family of friends and friends of family and so forth. And how fraught, that can be, how difficult it can be when we're mixing with people we wouldn't ordinarily choose to mix with. But because of our karmic affinity, here we are. Sitting down. This is it's just everyone knows this is this is the kind of a thing that many have written about, many have joked about how to deal with this, this situation. And it is a challenging one, it can be for sure, who can expect when you get together Thanksgiving, either at the table itself or flying in to see people or having people fly in to see us who can expect that everything will go harmoniously. So I thought I might offer some advice for what it's worth, based on life experience, of course, and what works better than other things are worse than other things. So these people are seeing over Thanksgiving dinner, before or after, may have very different views than we do about a number of things. Politics, of course, partisan politics, religion. Oh, diet, that's can easily come up over over dinner, health, books, movies, oh, all kinds of ways that we're going to experience quite a lot of diversity, when we sit down with these people. And naturally, there will be people are almost certainly likely to be people who we don't see as like minded. And then in the course of conversation, especially if there's any alcohol served, then things can get interesting. So what I have found is that the worst mistake we can make is to try to persuade others who have different views from ours, to persuade them of the reason behind our own our own views. There have been, there's been so much research that concluded that we rarely can change anyone's mind, through reason through argument through rational persuasion. It doesn't work. They say, the social scientists. It doesn't mean we can't skillfully offer a different perspective that might be helpful. Especially if we hear things that are offensive to US racial racist remarks, or other things. In a way we could say we it's our obligation to speak up. But then how do we do that skillfully. This is really what Zen practice comes down to with other people is skillful means how do we how do we help people skillfully and from everything I've read? We're not it's not going to be skillful. If we argue and try to persuade If people at length of our point of view, unless, of course, if we can, if we can do so dispassionately, if we're if we're pretty sure we we aren't attached to our, our view or our opinion. We're not going to dig our heels in, there could be situations Yes. Where both parties, the speaker and the listener can can find some meeting of the minds. So, yeah, it depends on the situation. And then, if we don't seem to be getting anywhere, then we could ask ourself what is more important to us? Being right? Or having a decent relationship? Or at least a decent relationship over dinner? This is such a such a sensitive thing. How far do you go in offering a different point of view? But I think it requires humility, that we're not going to make a lot of headway with most people who see things differently. The best thing we could do is to try to find common ground. How do you do that? You do the best you can.
One, one technique is you can use is deflecting or distracting. I'm reminded of seeing my sisters with their children, a child on their hip. And the child is fussing and whining and crabbing and seeing them, distract them with Hey, look at that. Look at that bird out there. And, and the little girl or boy stops and looks. Okay, these are. These aren't children. We're dealing with nice situations. But still, there is a way to sidestep something when we sense that we're not going to get anywhere they're not going to get anywhere. We're not going to get anywhere. Can we artfully change the topic into something we might find common ground it last night, I found myself at some the house of the condominium of some new friends. Sort of friends of friends. They invited Angela me over for some hors d'oeuvres. And she was the hostess was 82 and her boyfriend love that word and English word boyfriend. Her boyfriend was 90. And no sooner had we shaken hands. Then he started in on what he had done. The positions he had reached his responsible positions in this field or that field. And I could see that he wasn't much interested in what either of us have done. But he was happy to keep talking about everything he had done. And so when I got a word in edgewise i i keyed off something he had said he had mentioned something about baseball. And I said, So Bob, were you did you play sports? And and then that led to something else and then that's something else and I was able to get him out of this rut of just talking about himself. As a general proposition, you can't go wrong with asking questions. I mean, not not intrusive questions, not probing questions, in these situations, these light social situations. But instead of talking about oneself, which is what most people do, in my experience, not in the Sangha, but outside the Sangha, people love to hold forth. Man love to mansplain people love to talk about themselves, their children, of course, and how much better it can be in bringing people together. When we remember to ask questions. shouldn't be unnatural. With people we hardly know. Naturally, we, it's natural to ask questions. You don't have to ask what their occupation is, that can be a little bit inappropriate in some circumstances. But you cannot ask other things. Where do you live? Exactly? How long have you been here? Questions? Man? Listen, because it's mostly men who haven't trouble asking questions, ask questions, and then roll with it. See what comes of that. As my experience, it comes from a lot of failures in these social situations. too, and then listen, listen, when they're, when they're speaking, when they're answering the questions or anytime, this is half of half of human social fulfillment is listening. More we can listen, the more receptive will be more receptive, they will be the speaker, if they can see and people can see they can sense when we're listening, the more open and receptive lb. And then also, the more genuinely we are listening more attentively, we're listening, this will be get other questions we can ask. Ask the person.
Okay, then what about questions about Zen, about Buddhism? Well, here's another area where there's still ways we can go wrong. Not wrong. That's mean, where we may not play it very well. My own experience is that if, if someone asks you a question about Zen answer very briefly. Just I found myself in another social situation recently where I mentioned that I was considering putting together a book down here in Florida. And the man said, Well, what would the book be about? And, to my surprise, I said, about how to live and how to die. I've never said that before. And, well, we just went from there. But the first thing as Roshi Kapleau always used to say is to try to discern where the question is coming from. It's, it's a very superficial question. person is looking over your shoulder and looking here and looking there and just trying to keep some conversation going, then all the more reason to be very brief. But in some unusual cases, person may you may sense that their person is truly interested. And that if so then in response to your brief reply, they'll ask another question. And then Okay, now we have something going now you can you can build on what you said a little bit. And, and see where that goes. Maybe I have more experience at this, because I'm an ordained priest, and people soon enough, figure out or they're told what I do for a living. So, maybe I get more of these kinds of questions than most of you might. But I own rule of thumb is to play hard to get have heaven be be very reserved in talking about it. Because in most cases, there isn't much interest. And after all, there are so many other interesting things we don't have to talk about religion or plus one's own much less one's own religion, that can be itself can be very fraught.
And then, and then going back to any kind of tension or disagreement that may come up different views, politics or anything else. It can be good to develop some practice at humor. Find a way without being snide or anything like that, but find a way to come up with something that might be funny.
If someone asked me, asked me a question about Zen, Thanksgiving table, I will be specially brief about it, and then later, see if the person or maybe you might, may or may not want to say, well, you know, maybe we can, could say a few more things later, I don't want to hog the conversation at the table, and then maybe see if the person comes back. But, but really, our answers to questions about Zen or Buddhism is way less important than what we are presenting in the way of attentiveness. In the way of responsiveness in the way of interest, and how present we are, that goes much further than the way we answer questions in words. We want to be, we want to be we want to demonstrate whatever we've come to embody about the Dharma, we want to have them see our, our understanding of Zen, such as it may be
even after dinner, helping out with cleanup am here I found that rather than going in helplessly into the kitchen and saying to the host, what might I do to help it's better if you could just look, look and see what needs to be done? And just roll up your sleeves and start doing it? And then if he or she, the host? would rather have you do something else? Then she'll tell you. It has to be, of course a sincere offer sincere effort to step forward and and help the person and and you know, the host might very well mean it when he says no, no, please, please your your guests will we do this later. There's no rush on this, please join with the others or whatever. But it's another demonstration of, of our willingness to help to be there to respond to what needs to be done. Finally, I would just say to try to remember that everyone wants connection. Whether they even know it or not. We all want connection with others. That's that's the basic premise. That's what what makes this doable is that we're all coming from the same place. We don't want to be fighting we don't want to be alone. Isolated. We want to find ways of connecting. There is a there's a some words of wisdom that I've never forgotten. I saw it somewhere. I think it was at a hotel somewhere. It was a ascribe to I don't know I don't remember. Doesn't Calvin Coolidge I think doesn't matter because I looked it up and found that it was most likely. Attribution was to some 19th century Scottish clergyman. But in any case, it doesn't matter really, because I think I hope that everyone can appreciate the wisdom behind this. And this here's what the words were behind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.