Stressful and contentious conversations can ruin the holidays. That is why so many people intentionally avoid engaging in real conversation altogether and instead just stick to making small talk. And while that may be okay for a while, it can cause us to miss out on new perspectives, new points of view, and new opportunities for more meaningful relationships and connections.

On this episode of the Civil Squared podcast, host Jennifer Thompson shares some of her favorite clips from previous episodes that can help you approach your holiday conversations in a more productive and enriching way.

From Episode 51: Bridging divides and disagreeing well, Liz Joyner, founder and CEO of The Village Square, talks about how opposing points of view can enrich your perspective and can eliminate blindspots this holiday season.

From Episode 35: Unity, conversation, and being American, Samar Ali, Vanderbilt University research professor and Co-Chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy, talks about unity and how it doesn’t mean that we all have to be on the same page, but instead that we all have a common purpose that we are working towards.

From Episode 42: How to have better conversations about race, Erec Smith, Associate Professor of Rhetoric at York College of Pennsylvania, shares the number one tip for preparing for holidays with family and friends: pack lightly. And he’s not referring to the number of outfits and pairs of shoes you bring. Listen to learn about the pitfalls of bringing too much baggage into holiday conversations.

Happy Holidays from Civil Squared!

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About our guests:

Liz Joyner is the executive director of the Village Square, a nonprofit dedicated to reviving civic connections across divisions inside American communities. Named by former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe as one of eight organizations to support if you’re concerned about the deepening partisan divide, the Village Square has received support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Reid Hoffman Foundation and was the recipient of the 2015 Statewide Impact Award from Leadership Florida.

Liz has a Masters Degree in Social Work, conceptualizing the Village Square after her experience working in politics convinced her that the way we work out our disagreements in today’s public square is fundamentally flawed. She was nominated by Leadership Tallahassee as Leader of the Year in 2010, named by the Tallahassee Democrat as one of “25 Women You Need to Know” in 2015, by the Girls Scouts as a “Woman of Distinction” in 2016 and was honored by United Church Women as a Woman of Peace. She is also a Knight Foundation Fellow, a participant in the 2015 Conclave on Political Polarization.

Samar S. Ali’s research initiatives focus on positive compromise through promoting conflict-resolution best practices among people, communities and nations experiencing polarization due to the connection between violence and labeling. Ali joined Vanderbilt’s political sciences and law faculties as a research professor with 14 years of experience in international relations and legal practice. She began her legal career as a law clerk to Judge Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. ’60 of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and then clerked for Justice Edwin Cameron during his tenure on the Constitutional Court of South Africa. In 2007, she joined Hogan Lovell US in Washington D.C., helping to establish the firm’s Middle Eastern practice in the United Arab Emirates. She left the firm in 2010 when she was named a White House Fellow in President Barack Obama’s administration. During her fellowship, she worked closely with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on counterterrorism measures, gaining experience with bilateral negotiations on behalf of the U.S. government and later joined former President Jimmy Carter as part of an international delegation observing Egypt’s 2012 presidential election.

After returning to Tennessee to practice law, she joined the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam as the state’s assistant commissioner of international affairs, supporting Tennessee’s global relations. The five-year international strategy plan she helped develop laid the framework for Tennessee’s international economic development footprint.

In addition to her legal practice at Bass Berry & Sims, Ali co-founded and has served as a director of the Lodestone Advisory Group, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in growth strategies through innovation, venture capital, global markets and transformation. She is also president and CEO of Millions of Conversations, a nonprofit organization that aims to unite Americans around common values for a shared future by fostering dialogue among those who hold different opinions, views or beliefs.

Specializing at the intersection of national security, economic development and human rights, Ali is a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum, a term member with the Council on Foreign Relations, a Winrock International board member, and a recipient of the White House Fellows IMPACT Award. She currently serves as an adviser to the Aspen Institute’s initiative, “Who Is Us: A Project on American Identity,” and was recently appointed as a New Pluralist Fellow.

Her work has been featured in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Tennessean and other publications and venues.

Erec Smith is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric at York College of Pennsylvania, co-founder and co-editor of Free Black Thought, a Writing Fellow for Heterodox Academy, and author of the 2020 book, A Critique of Anti-racism in Rhetoric and Composition: The Semblance of Empowerment.