By Victoria Rae Moore
They say to never discuss money, politics or religion at the dinner table. Well, last weekend I had dinner at a stranger’s house with seven people I’ve never met and we broke all of those rules.
The meal was called a Transformation Table and it was inspired (in part) by a call-to-action delivered by Dr. Bernice King at the one year memorial service honoring victims and survivors of the 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church.
King charged Charlestonians to have more open, vulnerable conversations by having dinner with each other.
So here I was, a year later, eating a meal prepared by a Brooklyn born, Pakistani-Egyptian woman in a 19th century Broad Street home. It was a meal many would have paid top dollar for in a restaurant but the chef was there to share her culture, not make money.
We broke bread in a room lit by antique candelabras accented by African tapestries and lace Parisian curtains; two young couples, two older couples, a wife and three single women. We were diverse in age, ethnicity, cultural backgrounds and economic status.
It was a dinner party so we could have talked about anything like sports, careers, entertainment or upcoming events. A few times, I wondered why we didn’t just spend the whole party raving about the wonderful food we were sharing. But for some reason, at this table of strangers who were all members of the Charleston County community, we wanted to dive deeper.
Of course, we shared pieces of ourselves like where we grew up and what we did for a living. But gradually, heavier topics were introduced like diversity in schools, international relations and the role of our local government in creating more opportunities for black-owned businesses. Hibiscus juice, red wine and olive oil anointed the conversation.
What stood out to me most is that we all seemed to want to hear each other. Rather than speak over one another or break away into side conversations with our neighbors or cell phones, we all took turns posing questions and sharing perspectives.
By the time we made it to the final course (mint tea and custard pastries) the conversation had made its way to technology and its influence on bringing us together or moving us apart.
The reason I’m sharing this experience with you is because I want to encourage you to have more of these conversations, even with your own family and especially across generational gaps.
Something magical happens when a group of people sit down to share a meal and something even more magical happens when we connect and share stories with new people.
Consider hosting a small gathering and invite five friends (ideally they wouldn’t necessarily be from the same social circle). Ask each guest to invite one person to join them; preferably someone you don’t know. If you don’t want the responsibility of cooking for twelve, perhaps your dinner could be a themed potluck.
Also, if you get invited to a dinner with strangers, say yes. Lastly, if I may make one more suggestion, be inquisitive. Focus on learning by asking questions. The key, I believe, is to listen with an open mind and to be respectful.
Use these opportunities to share opinions and personal experiences that shape your unique perspective. You may end up solving a problem, changing someone’s mind or making a new lifelong friend.