NOVEMBER 21, 2016 | BY JASON WYMAN
Consulting Producer, Youth Media
“What are our desired futures?” Now, more than ever, this question seems critical to our country and our democracy. This election has brought to the light the significant divides in this country across age, geography, economic class, race, gender, and political ideology. This divide is not new. It has always been a part of the this nation. It is just now blatantly in our faces and in our feeds, and we now have a decision about how we want to address this divide.
When I see a gulf this big, my gut reaction is to problem solve—to jump right into the middle of it, roll up my sleeves, and get to work. It’s not a bad instinct per se, but it isn’t always a helpful one. As a white guy, my jumping in and “helping” isn’t always helpful. In fact, mostly it is harmful because with a divide this big there is never going to be a single response or action that will help bridge it.
A shared meal, or better yet a dinner party, is a great way to facilitate … cross-generational exchange. Food makes everything a bit better. And at a really exquisite meal, time momentarily slows down and space opens up.
What is sometimes needed instead is a moment of gathering, of pulling our friends and colleagues and family closer together and creating the conditions for active listening, bearing witness, and generational exchange. These moments do not have an “outcome.” Rather, they are all about taking the time to simply be. It is in this be-ing that transformation occurs.
A shared meal, or better yet a dinner party, is a great way to facilitate this cross-generational exchange. Food makes everything a bit better. And at a really exquisite meal, time momentarily slows down and space opens up. It’s the nourishment our bodies need to stimulate be-ing.
On the Wednesday night right after the election, when the divide of this country was in clear focus, Appalshop hosted a dinner. It was already planned for that day as part of NAMAC’s 50-State Dinner Party Project. The focus of the conversation that evening was, “What are our desired futures?”
Appalshop gathered 30 intergenerational community members, and they talked about the assets, challenges, and the beauty of their community in rural Kentucky. Kate Fowler, Director of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, wrote this about their dinner:
“This night was so beautiful, community-filled, and heart warming. So grateful to have this perspective on a day like today.”
This, to me, is the core of NAMAC’s 50-State Dinner Party Project: to bring together our neighbors, our friends and family, our colleagues, our participants, our selves, across generations and cultures and histories, to bear witness to our desired futures. For it is only through this moment of be-ing that we may discover that the gap is smaller than we believe.