Conquering the Divide in our Country - one dinner at a time

Re-posted from Medium.com

I’m not sure if it’s a factor of age, my growing community engagement or the fact that so many recent SCOTUS decisions not only significantly change people’s daily lives in our country and are highly publicized, but Justice Kennedy’s announcement that he would be retiring from the bench shook me.

The obvious reason is that it means that someone that served as a deciding vote on critical issues such as women’s reproductive health rights and gay rights will no longer be a deciding factor and overrule 4 highly conservative judges. The less obvious but equally as frightening reason is that it showcases the ongoing and deepening gap between people in our country.

 Photo by  Kevin Jesus Horacio  

Our country is in crisis. We are so deeply divided on so many issues and what’s most alarming is that it’s SO EASY to ignore or forget that there are people who feel equally as strongly on both sides of an issue.

I spent Wednesday afternoon reading the NY Times; every headline spoke anxiously of the possible changes and risks to human rights that would result from the replacement of Judge Kennedy. I also looked at Fox News and the retirement was barely mentioned on the front page. However, where it was mentioned, it was touted as a victory, a vindication for Trump, his supporters and the policies they are anxious to have backed by a conservative majority on the court.

Similar disparities can be seen in our country’s dueling narratives on immigration as well. On the one hand we have folks that are passionately fighting for the rights of refugees, amnesty seekers and hardworking undocumented people and of course innocent children who are deeply woven into the fabric of American society. On the other hand, there are folks who legitimately feel scared about people from other countries coming into the US. Whether these fears are based in reality, myth or unfamiliarity with cultures different than their own, these peoples’ passion for protecting themselves, their rights and their families is not diminished.

If we were to give everyone on both sides of either of these arguments the benefit of the doubt and ignore outright bigotry, hatred and scape-goating, the underlying theme that I believe we’d find is a desire to protect safety, family and livelihood – albeit in different ways and with different language.

What if we could find a way to get to this common denominator and bring people together to share their fears, their perceptions and so importantly, facts about topics that drive communities apart to start to close the gap?  One infamous story of doing this is from a former anti-Semitic, white supremacist who changed his world view and his entire life’s trajectory by participating in Shabbat dinners at his university. This is only one of many examples of human beings connecting to find what unites us instead of focusing on what divides us. 

Over the course of the past 18 months, Shalon has hosted over 350 people at 10 different dinners, asking them to bring both their truths and their challenges to share with friends and strangers at the table. The plan is to continue to grow the community in order to bring more people with conflicting points of view together in order to expand our world view, magnify our perspective and encourage understanding.  We may not be eradicating #fakenews or the echo chambers that only serve to strengthen what are often misconceived notions around opportunity, social & economic mobility, personal identity and so much more, but we are certainly starting to make a dent.

What topics would you bring to the table?

check out upcoming events to join as we break bread, break barriers and break the silence.