Artist Alden Leonard captured the essence of our conversation at the most recent dinner with these amazing sketch notes. I'd been thinking about documenting the dinners and wondering how to do so in the least possible intrusive way. Setting up a video camera felt like it might inhibit people from expressing themselves freely. Plus, it would take lots of editing time and skills that I don't have. I've set my phone in the middle of the table and made audio recordings of the dinners because I wanted to be able to reference the exact wording of what someone said if I wrote a blog post afterward. I didn't intend to make a podcast out of the recording or anything like that. Doing so would require much better equipment and better editing skills than I have.
Alden and I discussed whether he would sit at the table with us or sit creepily off to the side. We agreed he'd join dinner as a fully participating guest while also sketching notes on his iPad.
I have been reluctant to document the dinners also because I've been concerned that people who were not at the dinner might make mistaken judgments about the dinners guests based on too little information. I prefer for everyone to have their own conversations with those who have different views and to ask more questions and to become more confused by the complexities of human nature, rather than resolute in the righteousness of their own beliefs. Very few things in the world are unambiguously right or wrong. When we talk to people whose beliefs differ from our own, we start to see more shades of gray.
The purpose of the dinners is not about the political debate, though we debate vigorously. The dinners are about seeing people as humans through stories and personal interactions. Documenting the dinners for others to see could reveal some of the superficial reasons for why a person voted the way they did, but it doesn't help you see a real person sitting across the table from you. We need to look people in the eye, hear them speak, feel their passion, and see that they are so much more than the vote they cast. I think an old-fashioned dinner party does that!
I don't expect to change anyone's mind and I don't expect my right-leaning guests to change my mind. What I expect is that we will learn to respect each other's opinions and learn how to work together despite our political differences.
I have also been thinking about ways we can incorporate the arts into these dinners. At the beginning of this dinner, I presented the idea that we were making art together with Alden while we dined and talked. I think this notion slightly shifted the dynamic of our interaction. People are usually excited about creating something so the vibe became more positive and cooperative when we had that goal in mind.
Alden said that he thought the Trump supporter guests were atypical. They were really into yoga and ayahuasca among other characteristics that we usually associate with liberals. It's easier to categorize people in these ways. It's the brain's way of making sense of the world. Understanding these unexpected complexities and smashing our preconceived notions about other people people help us better understand our shared humanity. When we get beyond the black and white, binary world of politics, we can begin to understand these nuances. And the best way to understand these nuances is through face-to-face conversation.