Thanksgiving in Crazy Times
Staying grateful even for dinnertime disagreements and unsettling uncles.
FOR THIS YEAR’S THANKSGIVING PRAYER, I’d like to focus on your crazy uncle.
I’m willing to bet that the word “crazy” has been on your mind lately. Maybe even a lot. It used to be that there were some people who were “wrong” or “deluded” or “misguided” or “confused,” but over the last few years, the situation has clearly gotten worse. Now it seems like everyone is just plain nuts.
I hasten to add that this isn’t a clinical definition. No one’s been actually, you know, diagnosed with anything. But between the flat-earthers and the people who insist that Trump won the 2020 election and the ones who claim that Putin is the victim in the war he’s waging on Ukraine and now . . . just to put a gross cherry on top, maybe you’re being told that Osama bin Laden had it right all along?!
That’s not just “wrong” . . . it’s bonkers.
Sadly—unlike being around people who, in our opinion, are “incorrect,” and whom we’ve been taught to, if not respect, at least tolerate in our pluralistic world built upon patience for all ideas and encouragement to explore and express them, being around “crazy” people is something we’re not wired to do for long before developing mental health issues of our own.
As apes—more or less smart, more or less hairless apes, but apes nonetheless—we are built to recognize patterns around us and to be on the lookout for signs of danger. If we can’t predict what’s about to happen, we feel unsafe; being able to forecast what is about to occur is one of the principal tools that make it possible for us to feel safe.
Hanging out with our “crazy” kith and kin can take away that sense of security. When we identify someone who seems deranged, our alarm bells start going off because it’s impossible to know what such a person might say or do next. There are only so many hatches you can batten down, so to speak, before you’re just living a paranoid nightmare. We don’t want to all be stuck in our prepper bunkers awaiting the zombie apocalypse (although boy will those guys have the last laugh once it’s here!).
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But now you’ve got one of these people sitting across the table from you and you’re wondering if it’s safe to have them spend the night because just last week you noticed them reposting a tweet that included the phrase “From the river to the sea” (a slogan that Hamas uses to call for the extermination of the Jews). And now they’re mentioning, as they pile their plate high with all the fixins’, that they were surprised to find themselves agreeing with a lot of what bin Laden had to say in his letter to America that they just found on TikTok.
You might have been prepared for various kinds of claptrap from this person but you did not have that on your bingo card.
But here we are. Deep breath. . .
It might be worth finding out whether the friends and family whose views seem barking mad really are. After all, in many cases the problem is bad information, and the person’s underlying moral compass is still pointing to true north.
If you doubt it you can venture into first principles and see what happens. Do they still love you? Do they still wish for everyone on the planet to possess the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (so long as it doesn’t infringe on the same for others)? Do they still believe that it’s (generally) a bad idea to murder children in their sleep? Are we all still on the same page that musical theater is the most wretched form of entertainment and that it should be against the law?
They may hem and haw. They’re going to want to make sure that they’re not committing themselves to any absolutes. They’re going to equivocate slightly and tell you that there are always exceptions. But in general, you’re going to find that you have all the same priorities for the overall health of civilization and that they’re highly unlikely to strangle you in your sleep if you offer them the spare bedroom for a night or two.
You might think that this is small potatoes but it’s actually the most critical ingredient in our modern civilizational soup. It’s the overlap zone on the Venn diagram of our disparate beliefs and concerns that holds it all together. So long as we all still want to love and be loved and care about the general welfare of our fellow man, we’re going to be okay.
I’m positive that most of your crazy uncles (and/or nieces) aren’t actually crazy. And for this, I’m extremely grateful and wish for you to be as well.