Trying to Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner With the Elephant in the Room

Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 22.

Usually, the hot topics at Thanksgiving dinner are the arts, sports or the always-safe subject of the weather.

This year, however, we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. 

Yes, I can have a conversation about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in more than a century, after being behind 1-3 games in a best-of-seven series.

Three weeks later, we know the outcome of this very stressful, once-in-a-lifetime game.

However, the baseball pundits and pollsters had given the Cleveland Indians a 76% chance of winning.

I can expect that the youngest person at my Thanksgiving table, 20-year-old, Jason, will say, "I haven't a clue as to why they would predict that outcome."

And I will answer that one of my professors at Yale School of Management said that pollsters and pundits usually suffer from overconfidence bias, which is the tendency of experts to overestimate their knowledge and the accuracy of their information.

Then Jason's mother, Carly, will say that it is similar to "the 85% of drivers who think that they are above-average, even when they are bedridden at the hospital recovering from traffic accidents that they themselves caused."

"Those guys on TV excessively value their opinions and just look for information that confirms it," I will say.

Then, if the outcome is unexpected, they move on in some cases to more predictions, I will add.

"The typical hindsight bias" my wife, who has worked in the news business for more than 20 years, will say.

"Simply, once the dust has settled they all said that 'they knew it all along.' They choose to rewrite their memories to, as behavioral economics professors say, portray the positive developments as it they were predictable," I will say.

"They do it all over again because there is no accountability. Nobody questions the pundits because they are pundits," I will add. 

"At 10 p.m., on election night, pollsters were still giving Hillary Clinton a 70% chance of winning," Jason will interject.

All of a sudden, silence will ensue. The elephant will have just dropped his trunk on the table.

Fortunately, Maria will arrive and break the silence.

She is a college freshman studying computer engineering but also works in information technology for a boss who isn't very nice.

Maria is the first person in her family to go to college, and she is working to help her parents with their legal situation.

"They crossed the river 30 years ago," she will say. "I was born here, but now they are really scared."

Maria will say that her boss makes fun of people's disabilities, talks about his sexual conquests and brags about how the company's success is because of him.

Although her boss has failed in business more than once, he is the type of person who claims to know more about engineering than the engineers and more about economics than Nobel-prize winning economists.

Maria will say that her boss knows how to manipulate people and makes employees believe that the company is "us against the bad guys. He is a good talker, and he looks at you and makes you believe he can solve your problems. He's an equal-opportunity jerk, but if you are loyal he pays kind of well."

In addition, Maria will tell us that there are several lawsuits pending against her boss.

"He has the political connections and a bunch of spin doctors. He is is a big shot and is lucky but has no talent," Maria will say.

"Luck or talent? That's the question," I will muse.

"It's a combination of both," Maria will say. "But when you give credit to your luck, you feel more empathy for those who don't have as much luck."

At that point, dinner will be nearly ready. 

I started the evening with a banana from Ecuador. There is wine on the table from not just California but also Argentina, Chile, France, New Zealand and South Africa.

I use an electric pepper grinder that is made in China.

Our background music is by Neneh Cherry, a Swedish singer whose father was born in Sierra Leone, singing an old song with Youssou N'Dour, a Senegalese poet, politician and singer living in France.

This globalized Thanksgiving will make us all realize that the elephant has already surreptitiously left the room.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. 

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