Sometimes it’s just once a year.
There’s great effort usually by all parties. The guests might travel a great distance - at great expense and inconvenience. Typically the host spends weeks leading up to the affair by tidying their home and planning and preparing a flavourful feast.
Everyone is pleased to be together, but often the considerable efforts by all result in some level of anxiety.
This anxiety likely peaks when the table is set, alcohol is in abundance and everyone - of varying generations and upbringings - is coerced into polite conversation.
Ah yes, the inevitable family and guest co-mingling holiday dinner. Where we break bread, clink our glasses in a toast and attempt to ignore our vibrating phones.
In a society enveloped by information and various forms of communication, why is it so difficult to exchange words in person? In the earliest days of humankind, even before language and literacy, we favoured the company of another human and thrived on companionship. We progressed together, as a populace. For centuries we relied on exchanged hand written letters to communicate with those at a great distance. This asynchronous method was replaced with the telephone and digital platforms. Now, it seems, we’ve regressed on basic verbal communication. Multiple our fumbling attempts of conversation with the tight rope walk between appropriate subject matter. After we’ve acquainted each other with updates on our lives and the lives of mutual family and friends, we’re stuck with current events. What else is there to talk about?
Highly politicized media dominates our Facebook feed, our Twitter, other mainstream media sources and our social outlets. Based on our own values and beliefs we’ve nestled ourselves into a comfortable position. Discomfort comes when we’re confronted with an opposing viewpoint.
Your cousin may refuse to remove his red ‘Make Alberta Great Again’ ball cap, grandma might still use an ethnic slur when referring to her neighbour, your sister-in-law’s vegan preference might not bode well with the host’s choice of main dish and everyone has an opinion about climate change.
For a moment consider the background of your fellow table mates, their current positions in life, and where their opinions might originate. An individual who has built their life around Alberta’s oil and gas industry might not applaud Greta Thunberg’s recent efforts in Edmonton.
Let’s use this dinner as an experiment on how we can co-exist with our opposing viewpoints in 2020. This isn’t to imply that we survive on tedious small talk but instead implores each of us to be more purposeful in learning about one another. Whether we use open-ended questions or explore commonalities between ourselves and others as a launching point.
Let’s give our company our undivided attention, eye contact and our attentive ears. Let’s move forward into the new year with open minds, open hearts and mutual respect for one another.