“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

Sun TzuThe Art of War

Soon, many of us will head into the cozy crucible that is the extended family Christmas dinner. There will be side-hugs, nuts with the shells on, starchy dishes, small talk, and then (sure as spring turns to summer turns to glowing autumn), it’s time for Opinions on Issues of the Day and also Life Choices You Are Making.

Perhaps in the past, you’ve imagined that facts and well-reasoned arguments would work. Maybe diplomatic re-routing was the way to go. Keeping the same not-smile smile on your face, nodding quickly and answering with one word. How did these stratagems work out for you?

No more. This year, you stop bringing a pleasant, reasonable knife to a gunfight. This year, your responses will completely derail any conversation in progress. This year, your dinner table blather will leave everyone feeling quiet, unsettled, and somehow reminded of that time at summer camp when an allergic kid got stung by a bee and then died.

Here’s how.

Your relative says: “Pope Francis is a Communist. End of story!”

You could politely say: “Welllll, it’s difficult to place him on the left-right spectrum as it exists in the U.S. Oh! Is there any more gravy?”

You will instead: Begin gathering nearby plates, dishes, forks and leftovers. Speak authoritatively as you maneuver each item. “So let’s say — just pretend, ok? — let’s say this pile of mashed potatoes is the Pope. And this spoon,” (set it atop the potatoes), “… is the Vatican conclave. And this plate is the Roman Catholic Church. And this wine glass is the Eastern Orthodox Church, but the wine inside it is the faithful who are feeling kind of distant from God lately. And this candle is Joe Biden. And this pepper mill…” Continue in this way until you have named each and every item in the room, including the air itself, which, naturally, is the 2014 Winter Olympics. When someone questions where this is going, smile condescendingly and say, “Actually, this is pretty obscure stuff. Never mind.”

Your relative says: “There is no such thing as free speech or a free country anymore. I mean, that guy from Duck Dynasty opened his mouth and boom—look what happened to his First Amendment rights!”

You could quietly interject: “Actually, that’s not really how the First Amendment works. It protects people against prior restraint from the government, not exile from a cable reality series.”

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