It’s easy to subscribe to the narrative that we are too different from one another to effectively communicate. We hear it with increasing frequency. The chasms as defined by race, ethnicity, income, religion, geography or our fascination with our smartphones are too wide to bridge. We can choose to simply accept this and live with the consequence – a society that is increasingly unable to confront its challenges – or we can select a counter narrative. In Greater Philadelphia, for the third year running, we have determined that there is another way. This week we will once again participate in On the Table – a project enabled by the Philadelphia Foundation and James & John L. Knight Foundation.
The premise of On the Table is simple. On October 17, in settings as diverse as living rooms, restaurants, office conference rooms and nonprofits, thousands of people will get together to simply talk. They will discuss an array of topics from everyday neighborhood matters to climate change and food insecurity. They will gather over coffee in the morning, a brown bag lunch or even a multi-course dinner. However or wherever they choose to come together, they will actively participate in strengthening our community.
While the act of sitting down to talk may sound mundane, it is extraordinarily powerful. As General Manager of the Reading Terminal Market, I have the privilege of seeing that dynamic everyday. Strangers who may cross one another on the sidewalk without raising their heads, interact in our aisles and often discover they have more in common than preconceived notions may suggest. They also demonstrate that, when we permit ourselves, we are instinctually inclined to socialize and that we often walk away from such interactions with more than we brought to the conversation. This is why we have hosted On the Table conversations for the last several years and look forward to another conversation group on Thursday.
I have participated in discussion tables focused on topics from solving our region’s hunger crisis to how we can leverage our regional food economy to create more job opportunities. On each occasion, I have left invigorated and energized with new ideas and perspective. Participation in Philadelphia’s On the Table has grown nearly 60 percent since it began in 2017. The surge in interest demonstrates not only the value that participants derive from the discussions, but also the thirst for forums like it. So join the movement. Sign up for one of the hundreds of already scheduled discussions or host your own. Collectively, we can show the rest of the nation that reaching across our divides is not only possible, but enjoyable. Sit down with friends and strangers on Thursday and talk. For more information or to register to host a conversation visit www.philafound.org
Anuj Gupta is an advisory committee member for On the Table Philly.