Sitting around the messy, unorganized table you see in this picture is a fairly interesting group of humans. The lovely woman in the blue shirt is my mother Anne-Marie, the little man in the red shirt is my brother Benjamin, the goofy man in the gray shirt is my neighbor Darren, and the couple to the right is comprised of my sister and her new boyfriend Hannah and Tristen. Anne-Marie works at a locally owned soap store by the name of The Bartlett Soap Company, volunteers frequently at the Oak Elementary, and is never shy in sharing her opinions. Benjamin is a current second grader with a passion for reading, science, and video games. Darren is a warehouse manager who writes poetry and has a passion for all things music, especially jazz and heavy metal. Hannah, a senior in high school, is a genius planning on going to Ole Miss to study chemical engineering. Finally, Tristen is Hannah’s boyfriend, also a high school senior, works in an auto garage and adores cars, guitars, and noise.
We began our discussion with hummus my sister made and pita bread my mom picked up from Kroger. I found out quite interesting things about every single person, especially Benjamin. Anne-Marie is extremely adamant about universal health care and the health care existing as a basic human right, the responsibility of the government to allocate their expenditures not to quantity but to quality and access. Though my mother is loud and never farouche when sharing her opinion about issues like the presidential race and the education system changes in Bartlett, Tennessee, I’ve never heard her speak on health care with such vivacity. Darren is passionate about unemployment as apparently he was once part of the population and clawed his way up from the bottom. Hannah was once almost taken by an eating disorder, an event that I too experienced with her hand in mine, so her social issue was eating disorders. She labels them as an “underestimated killer,” having known firsthand that many doctors, nurses, health professionals, peers, and even parents do not embrace the fact that eating disorders are indeed a mental illness, not just a mindset that can be overcome. Tristen’s social issue is stands in the presidential race. He has an outstanding and unswayable opinion on the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and his potential as president. And lastly, Benjamin’s social issue stood in how other children and parents treat his friends who moved to the United States and do not speak very fluent English. Kids and even their parents ostracize these children who are already incredibly shy, nervous, and very eager to make friends.
The main focus of conversation centered around citizenship and the ways to make ourselves more effective, educated community and world citizens. We also explored how compassion, logic, and psychology contribute to citizenship, just as in class. Both of my parents have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and I knew that the concept of “the elephant and the trainer” would catalyze a explosive conversation. Darren emphasized that compassion functioned as a mountain while the government was logic functioning as the mountain climber. He explained this as compassion is unique and winding just as a mountain. When a mountain climber, or the government/logic in this sense, goes to hike a mountain, he/she can not predict how the mountain’s curves, crevices, bumps, and grooves will turn out to be. However, it is up to the mountain climber to not give up to the mountain’s complexity. With experience and climbing more mountains, the mountain climber can begin to understand how a mountain works, how to overcome its biggest inclines and its deepest trenches. In essence, the government can fully comprehend the more difficult situations by overcoming the ambiguousness of compassion and applying logic, or itself, to compassion.
In the end, the dinner ended up being more than just a conversation about community, but a newfound bond between family and neighbors. There was laughter and rough-housing, smiles and love. After being separated from my family for the first time in my life, I’ve felt lonely and disconnected from the people with whom I spent my life. I also didn’t grow up eating family dinners or spending a lot of time as a family unit, but this dinner was revolutionary for my family and for me.