“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.—
Experience: Big Table
When I was a kid, we gathered around the Passover table every spring with a hodgepodge of relatives and friends. Some years our table would extend to include over 30 people. I joked with my mom that we would need a special permit from the Rabbi to conduct such a large event outside the Temple. In pockets around this table, we would have spirited discussions about food, sports, relationships, and politics. Pretty much anything went. People jousted for airtime and tried to score points for their ideas. Looking back, it was my first window into group facilitation. I noticed that some people were quiet and mostly listened, while others loved to talk, debate, and make lots of noise. A few people could get everyone’s attention with just a couple of words and a gesture. Especially if they were in charge of bringing out the dinner.
It was this large table that introduced me to the idea of a shared, sacred space. When we finished the small talk, we handed out Passover reading books and gave voice to the story of Jews leaving Egypt for their new homeland. The same people who had been arguing and jousting now carefully read aloud one by one. And every once in a while, the story called on all those assembled to read together. Our voices boomed in unison with such power that I was sometimes moved to tears, although as a kid I didn’t know why. No matter who attended, whether they were blood relatives or not, they were welcomed and engaged with warmth and hospitality. They were family in our eyes.
Relevance: I Know You
In these highly polarized times, we ‘other’ people a lot. We use labels to divide and separate– even to demonize. What if we instead tried to see people we don’t even know as members of our extended family? What if we called strangers brothers and sisters, or as cousins, uncles or aunts? In ancient cultures, they actually do this. When I visited India, they referred to older persons they casually met in the street as auntie or uncle. It created a bond and a palpable feeling of comfort as if to say, “I know you and we are connected, even if we haven’t met before.” It was familiar to me because of my family’s table.
Practice: Extended Family
- Intention. Before you walk out the door of your home or open a virtual call, take a moment to set an intention that you will be meeting people with whom you are related. Expect to find connections with these people as if it were natural.
- Communication. Share a word with someone you don’t know, looks or acts differently than you, or happens to cross your path. Take a few minutes to communicate to them that they matter. You may be very surprised at the results.
- Acknowledgment. When you do hear something of value or even of wonder, be sure to mark the occasion by calling it out. “That is cool because…” “Yes, that is such a good idea.” “That reminds me of…” In moments of real connection, I will sometimes finish the conversation by referring to that person as brother or sister.
- Caring. Take a moment to give back to this other person. It may be as simple as “thank you”, “be well”, or “stay safe.” This is a way of caring for another human being as if they are related to you. You are rooting for them because their success and health will ultimately assist everyone, including you. Just like they are members of your extended family.