Sunday, January 25, 2009

community and the family dinner

Last night, some of The Weekly Gumboot staffers were fortunate enough to partake in one of the most quintessential moments of community: the family dinner. Seven of us were there. Five of us were then (and are now) under 30. Two were then (and are now) "grown-ups" or "parents." And from 6:42pm until 8:51pm we laughed, philosophized, debated, ate, drank, and sustained our inter-familial community.

If you're looking to have fun with it during a dinner part of family dinner, consider employing some of these helpful hints:
  • Diversify your Conversation: I don't know about you, but I struggle immensely with pauses in a conversation. So, when it comes to good conversation, it's always good to have a few ideas in your back pocket. At one point our discussion segued from climate change to unibrows to German Holocaust guilt to macaroni and cheese. Obviously, some of the more, well, delicate topics (like unibrows) must be arrived at gently; however, with a good group of people, it will undoubtedly go somewhere fun if you ask a question like: "So, what do you think about the role of ninjas in the current global economic crisis?"*
  • Eat Well: It's all pretty simple. Whatever you're good at cooking, cook it! Good food (which is a totally relative concept: my friends Kurt and Theo like to braise and slow-cook things of the gourmet variety, while my aunt and uncle add bacon to Kraft Dinner) brings people together in a beautiful way.
  • Be Nice: You might not agree with a certain point of an argument or the tact taken to present an idea, but when you're a guest in someone's house (and their feeding you!) know when to say, "I think we can agree to disagree." And if you're a host, don't push an issue when it's clear that there's a divergence in points of view. My friend has a great shirt that simply states, "Jesus says: 'Don't be a dick'." Jesus is right.
  • Be Inclusive: If someone at the table isn't saying much, try seeing if they want to be involved in the discussion. Asking questions is a great way to motivate the shier - or uninterested - members of the dinner table into the conversation. It will make you well-liked, too. Perhaps even an expert conversationalist!
  • Take Risks, and Don't be Boring: Be yourself. And obviously keep your comments within the realm of societal acceptance. This being said, play to your audience and don't be afraid to make things interesting. If you have a good team at the table, they'll acknowledge your successes and failures with body language or the occasional, "wow, I honestly can't believe you just said that..." If you feel momentum, run with it. And know that it's always a good idea to leave on a high-note. When in doubt, try relating random parts of the evening (such as macaroni and cheese) to pirates: "the Sicilian pirate, Captain Macaroni, made a name for this type of pasta by drowning his victims in huge tubes of it!"
So there it is. Some ideas from everywhere that will help us all navigate our next dinner party.

A bientot!

- John

*Ninjas, as we know, have been pulling strings in the shadows for years. Backroom deals, secret operations, expert assassinations, taking orders from Dick Cheney, and battling Batman in epic hand-to-hand combat over the future of Gotham City.


Stewart Burgess said...

have you ever read how to win friends and influence people?

you've just described it...!

I'm curious if you had one individual who did not follow these rules, and all others did, would the situation be awkward for only the person or with everyone?

John Horn said...

No, I haven't read it. But I have smart friends like you, and I'm a good listener. Or maybe I've learned through osmosis because I like to hug people.

Honestly, I'm happy to know that the stuff I teach students isn't entirely made-up crap. Like, 32% of it is. I know that. But at least not all of it is.

As for your question, I think it wholly depends on the person. A quiet person can always fade away into the background, or might always concede and compromise. If someone consistently brings up an individual's - or the group's - unibrow(s) or poor career choice of career path or spits out the food or keeps bringing up, say, the Holocaust in a crass and dick-ish way then, yes, it would make the situation awkward for everyone there.

I have a question for you: what if only one person followed the rules? If, say, six people are eating dinner and three individuals are being as crass as described above. Two more are tolerating (thus condoning and supporting it) by casually joining in for some of the sexist/racist/prejudice refrains, and merely rolling their eyes at the others. Only one person at the table voices concern and "plays by the rules." So, is this person losing friends and not influencing people? Has the dinner party paradigm shifted? How does one play to this kind of an audience?

Since Theo and Kurt have, apparently, retired from the Gumboot, I look forward to discussing this with you further.

Well said, sir.

Theodora Lamb said...

Retirement? Bah!