Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
I don’t know about you, but the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? is one of my all-time favorites. If you’ve never seen it, the movie is about a young couple coming to dinner at the bride’s parents’ home. The bride-to-be is the white daughter of wealthy, liberal parents, and the groom is African-American and from a working-class family. Much to the surprise of her parents, their daughter has also invited her fiancée’s parents to join them for dinner that very evening.
Without giving too much away, the groundbreaking film deals with how both sets of parents have reservations about the marriage because of their assumptions about other people and the overt and latent racism the couple may face down the road. What I love about the film is that each character’s opinions, some well-intended and some not, are influenced by not only life experiences but also their personal beliefs that are not founded on proof or certainty.
Let’s just say that because these two families were forced to sit down at the same table and have a difficult conversation, they are given the opportunity to listen to each other and understand why they formed their points of view on this divisive issue.
Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of jumping to conclusions about others too, especially since the 2016 election.
How many times have you had a visceral reaction after seeing someone wearing a Make America Great Again hat? You likely immediately assume that the person is an ardent supporter of Trump and all that he believes. In some cases, you may be right. But after speaking with the person, you may be shocked to discover otherwise. Let me give you an example.
I attended a diversity conference six months after the election and then-NBC News correspondent Jacob Rascon was on a panel sharing his observations of the people at Trump campaign rallies. Jacob would arrive four hours ahead of the start time and interact with those at the event. He said that—without exception—he never heard anyone speak negatively or disrespectfully about people from diverse backgrounds.
As you might imagine, everyone in the audience gasped, and wondered how it could be true. He said they were concerned about the economy, jobs, and many of the same issues important to Democrats. What he said next was perhaps the biggest lesson I learned about why our nation has become so polarized.
Jacob said that most Democrats often refer to Republicans as Trump supporters when in many cases they are people who happened to vote for Trump. See the difference? Before you turn the page, hear me out.
He went on to say that we often live in echo chambers. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with people who think like us. We watch CNN and MSNBC but rarely if ever hear what those on Fox News are saying and why they believe what they do.
If each of us just took more time to intentionally engage with those with opposing points of view, we might be surprised to learn we share the same taste in music, went to the same school, or grew up in the same community. Finding common ground and being hospitable lowers their guard, inviting the other person into the conversation and building trust.
This is exactly why Marnie Fienberg launched a grassroots effort known as 2 for Seder after her mother-in-law Joyce was killed in last year’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
On the Jewish holiday of Passover, the Seder is a ritual performed by multiple generations of a family or by a community (such as at a synagogue or community center) and involves retelling the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. It is not uncommon for the host to invite non-Jewish friends so they can experience this special evening.
Like Marnie, Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday because the Seder is filled with symbolism reminding us of the pain and suffering ancestors endured because of their religious beliefs. It’s also because it brings families and friends together to share a meal complete with matzah ball soup and brisket!
These very happy memories sparked an idea for Marnie: if each of us Jews invited two people who had never before attended a Seder to join us, they could have a meaningful introduction to Judaism, especially if they believed negative stereotypes about its followers. Maybe, just maybe, it would at least be enough to ratchet things back and prevent future violence against Jews.
When asked if she really believed 2 for Seder could lessen the hatred of extreme anti-Semitism, her response gave me hope. Fienberg said, “Conceivably, someone’s going to say something to my neighbor, something negative about Jews. Well, he’s got the data now. He can say, ‘I’ve experienced this myself. You are wrong. You need to reconsider this trash coming out of your mouth.’”
I think Marnie is onto something. Telling stories teaches us to love, to forgive others, and hopefully, to gain compassion...something the world needs more. ▼
Wesley Combs is a diversity and inclusion expert and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding Principal of Combs Advisory Services where he works with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality and opportunity in the workplace and the community.