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How to spark civil conversation at Thanksgiving Dinner.


IN ADDITION to turkey and football, Thanksgiving is a time for the clan to gather, reflect, reconnect and assess. Sometimes - with different generations at the same table - conversation can be strained, or generate awkward silences and "Did I just hear


?" eye-rolls.

Like when Uncle Charlie calls Barack Obama a Kenyan Muslim or Cousin Bonita complains it's "gender oppression" because her college dorm has no unisex bathrooms.

A friend tells me he and his children had fun using a card game called Family Time, which is just a series of questions, but questions that made him think.

Questions, you know, are a big deal in my line of work.

In Journalism 101, students are taught the fives W's and the H: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Answer those questions, we believe, and you have the framework of a news story. (The "why" is the hardest to get answered.)

Barbara Walters once was ridiculed about some of her questions, such as, "If you could be a tree, what kind of a tree would you be?"

Barbara didn't really want to know what kind of a tree the person would be, but she knew the answer might reveal something about personality. A fruit tree points to a person who is giving, perhaps, while a cactus suggests someone dry and prickly.

When skillfully blended among other questions, a portrait emerges.

I asked Diane Sawyer - no slouch herself in the interview game - if she had any recurring dreams. She said she often dreamed about being a football quarterback.

This was in the early '80s, long before she had become ABC's main anchor, but that answer suggested she dreamed of being in control. (I sent her a Ron Jaworski jersey as a gift.)

When I was teaching basic newswriting, here's how I challenged my Temple journalism students: Define yourself in 10 ways.

Hardly any of my students could do it - they got stuck after "student," "sleepy" and "hungry" - until I told them to step back and look at the big picture.

Here's the personal example I gave them: I am - male, father, brother, son, Philadelphian, Democrat, writer, Jewish, tall, Libran. Once they heard mine, they could come up with their own 10.

Oh - Thanksgiving.

If you hit an awkward pause, or when it seems civil war may break out, whip out the conversation starters.

You can buy the Family Time card game, but (as always) I'm here to help. Here are thought-provoking questions - some of which I have used in interviews - that I think will stimulate (peaceful) discussion:

*  If you could be a famous person for a week, who would you be and why?

* If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?

* If you could pick your own name, what would it be?

* How would you describe yourself to someone who has never met you?

* What is your favorite family tradition? Are you passing it along?

* What memory best captures "summer" for you as a child? Tell us why.

* Who was the most influential person in your life?

* What was the best advice you were ever given? Did you take it?

* What's something you love to do but haven't done lately because you are too busy?

*  Do you believe life is or isn't fair? Explain.

* If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what age would you be?

* What is the best invention of all time?

*  What two items would you save if your house was on fire?

* If you could eat only three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?

*  If you could invite to dinner anyone (past or present), who would it be?

* If you were invisible for a day, what would you want to observe?

*  And the mandatory: What is the thing you are most thankful for?

I wish you a lively Thanksgiving.


Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky