Everyone’s a critic: How to respectfully engage in dinner table debates

by | Feb 10, 2023 | Opinion

There are few things I find more terrifying than having a confrontation at the dinner table. It sounds silly, especially being someone who grew up with internet strangers hurling debates at each other like a bad game of hot potato. 

Yet that doesn’t make sharing my opinion feel any less vulnerable. Stances from religion, to politics, to media will always butt heads with someone. If you’re like me and fear the dinner table debate, keep reading. I’m not someone who can give unbiased spiritual advice, but, I can share my tools for media engagement and polite conversation. 

Part 1. Art

Media/art is a collective engagement. Literally! It could not exist without the input of people. That is what makes it such a subjective experience. Personal taste influences how you see craftsmanship and lets you call the shots on the parts you like or don’t like. While it starts in the hands of the artist(s), you interpret it with whatever life has handed you. 

When you interpret art, there are some things to be internally aware of. Your attitude, the last time you ate (hanger is a surprisingly impactful variable) and other art you might compare it with. The last one matters because we’re always making comparisons, and sometimes, they aren’t fair. For example, if you see a film you like by a particular director, and the next film you see by them is a different genre, your critique might be harsher because it’s different than what you’re used to. 

An easy way to stay aware of these internal factors is to journal, talk with close friends, or take a shower. Shower thoughts are weirdly helpful for processing.

Part 2. Conversation

Now onto the difficult part. Actually sitting at the table and speaking to other people with words. Sitting in bed on your phone, converting your opinions into fodder for the Twitter trash fire works too. Whatever floats your boat. 

Regardless of the topic you choose to engage in, you should be kind and open to other people’s experience. Remember the golden rule of consuming media: don’t yuck someone else’s yum. Having a healthy back-and-forth on your ideas and perceptions leads to a productive chat. Everyone has good and not-so-good points, so paying attention is critical. Take extra time to be polite when it is somebody you don’t know. It is much easier to listen to someone you’re close to.

Part 3. Disagreeing 

My last pointer is that not everything you like is a masterpiece. Sorry, but it’s true. Other people are allowed to dislike the things you enjoy, and vice versa. So, when you see a controversial movie, or your family member says something iffy about your favourite show during dinner, make sure to appreciate that all eyes watching will have slightly different takeaways. And that’s a good thing. After all, difference is beautiful.

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