A Chilean, an Argentinian, a Frenchman, a Bulgarian, and an American walk into a bar. Just kidding. No joke here. Just dinner for thirteen expats, ages forty to seventy, representing three continents, sitting together at a large table in Valencia, Spain. The conversation was brisk, engaging, and at times, potentially challenging. Topics included differences in cultural backgrounds, the politics of our respective countries, the raising of children, and of course the one topic no dinner chatter would be complete without – circumcision.
Yes. Circumcision. Why not? Anything is conversation-worthy given the right context. In this case, the topic was raised in a thoughtful way, one guest wondering if she’d done her son any favors by having the procedure scheduled shortly after his birth. Perhaps, she postulated, it should be a choice each male should make when old enough to understand the pros and cons. There could have been pointed pushback on either side of that topical coin, given its religious, ethical, sexual, and medical overtones. But there wasn’t. All views were treated with respect. In fact, not once that evening did the discourse on any controversial topic turn disruptive or edgy.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t sometimes uncomfortable or unexpected. I didn’t check with the other men at the table, but after the fifth or sixth mention of the “C” word, I can recall crossing my legs tightly.
Respect and Humility
No one in the room felt the need to be argumentative, or to win points. There was no pressure to choose a side. No verbal slights or eyerolls. It was a congenial conversation. There was a genuine interest to listen and learn.
Everyone around this particular table had made their way to Spain after a series of life-changing decisions. The road to emigration is a tough, leveling experience. It hinges on the desire to make a substantive change in the course of one’s life. It demands intellectual and emotional grit and moves slowly through a process that can turn sideways at any moment. There are many pieces of the emigration puzzle that seem random, requiring an unquestioning respect for unfamiliar cultural behavior. It’s a test that shines a bright spotlight on one’s level of humility.
Those two attributes, humility and respect, were strongly in evidence. And afterward, I couldn’t help but compare our discourse that evening to current dinner table commentary in the United States, where Covid, politics, and polarization often prove to be an explosive mixture. I fear as we get closer to the 2024 elections, new divisive heat will be brought into the mix.
Insulate Not Isolate
GrainexDepaix, an organization that exists to support the manifestation of societal peace through education, says this about human values:
Human values are, for example, respect, acceptance, consideration, appreciation, listening, openness, affection, empathy and love towards other human beings.
GrainexDepaix believes the values stated above allow people and nations to put justice, integrity, and non-violent response into practice. I’m optimistic we can find our way back home to these tenets. However, we might need to temporarily insulate ourselves from those not wishing to make the journey with us.
I read and hear about the loneliness and separation felt by those who miss friendships that does not have, as its baseline, a need to fall in line with particular political or religious views. We’re past the point of requiring more proof that loneliness or lack of connectivity is the number one obstacle to happiness. Yet I direct you to the 80 year old Harvard, multi-generational study, which conclusively finds that embracing community is the most helpful factor in longer, happier lives.
That being said, in a society as complex as ours, taking care of one’s emotional state is a must. It’s fine to insulate against those not seeking to represent themselves as better angels. That does not mean, however, we can afford to turn a blind-eye toward reality. Insulate does not mean isolate. We can seek respite in places more humane without shirking our responsibility to vote, make our feelings known productively, live and work in a comfortable, meaningful head space that bolsters emotional health.
So Until Then…
It’s up to each one of us to:
- keep hold of our morality and values without feeling shamed for having them
- guard against rhetoric that feels contrary to basic, decent tenets of living
- engage deeply and empathically with friends who might feel lost in the current morass
- distance ourselves from unreliable, unbalanced media reports unsupported by real data
- lean into roles that support and nurture companionship and connection
- respect the right of others to feel differently even if it is in opposition to our own beliefs
Yes. New world-building is involved for all of us just when we thought we could rest on our laurels.
So invite more people to dinner. Have sane, civilized conversations on important topics. Connect with old friends, new friends, teachers, Rabbis, Priests, and those who represent you in government. Read nurturing materials prolifically. Reestablish the connection between your heart and mind.
In short, literally, and metaphorically, dine out on your values.
Photography by Charlie Solarzano at Unsplash.
3 thoughts on “Dining Out On Your Values”
Your words are thoughtful, sane, and wise. We can work toward achieving the worthy goals listed here with the acknowledgment that we might have different ideas about how to attain them. We need to be respectful, whether or not we agree. To quote the bard, “T’is a consummation devoutly to be desired.” I hope I got that right – if not, it’s close enough.
Oops…I think the quote ends with the word “wished” rather than desired.
Thanks, Ann. Just the fact that you quoted him on the same page as my post was thrill enough. xo