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The solution to any problem begins when someone says, “Let’s talk.” Many of the greatest moments in our nation’s history began not in the marbled halls of a government building, but in conversations around a kitchen table.
We find ourselves in the midst of a barrage of bombastic and caustic rhetoric punctuated by personal putdowns, political zingers and angry voices. This is no way to have a conversation and certainly is no way to solve the challenges we face as a country. So, let’s talk about talking about it.
It is time for us to come to America’s kitchen table and engage in elevated dialogue, deeper discussions and more meaningful conversations. We must go far beyond 140-character tweets or vitriolic Facebook posts. I learned the power of kitchen-table conversations long ago, in a setting most of the world would have missed or dismissed as nothing too great or grand.
I grew up in a family of 11 children and was fortunate to have parents who understood the blessing and power of dialogue. We had a simple tradition of having pancakes for dinner on Saturday night. With 11 children we had a unique kitchen that was anchored by a large counter, similar to what you find at a café. On Saturday evening all of us children were expected to be at home, sitting around the counter while my dad made pancakes.
If you haven’t had had pancakes in a large group before, you should know that they do not come in stacks – I had no idea what a stack of pancakes was for years. In fact, my sister Vickie coined a phrase that having pancakes with the Matheson family was like the early stages of labor pains – you get them one at a time and about 10 minutes apart.
Yet it was during that time, when we were waiting for those precious pancakes to come our way, that we engaged in meaningful dialogue. No, we didn’t quote philosophers or recite scriptures or sing hymns, and I am certain we had more than a few arguments and disagreements about whose turn it was to do the dishes. All in all, it became a priceless time when my parents would share things that were important to them, and just as important, they would listen to what was important to us children. It was a simple thing, a little dialogue that made a big difference.
There has never been a greater need for such dialogue – in our homes, in our communities, in our statehouses, and in our nation’s capital. It is time for America to come to the kitchen table for a conversation about the principles that made our country extraordinary and the policies that will ensure our future success.
In 2005 Gaylord Swim, founder of Sutherland Institute, predicted our current political climate by saying, “The political course often leads to power struggles, pride, vanity and egocentric ambition, ending in acrimony. It all too often manifests itself in strident voices, character assassinations, protest demonstrations, cloakroom deals, and corruption.”
He then described what our political and civic conversations should reflect, saying, “This process requires strong advocates, certainly, but it also takes a counter-balancing sense of humility, civility, and dialogue.” Humility, civility and dialogue – hardly what we have seen playing out on the national stage, but certainly what we should be striving for as a nation. How we engage in dialogue matters. Words and tone carry meaning, and the meaning matters.
When we set aside the partisan talking points, refuse to engage in literal or virtual shouting matches, and come to the kitchen with an attitude of “let’s talk about it,” we can elevate issues, even the difficult and divisive issues, in inspiring ways.
This isn’t about “hugging it out” or having a kumbaya moment – it is about coming together and rediscovering the principles that unite our country. If as Americans we fail to find ourselves, we will never find leaders who can guide us anywhere that truly matters.
When we come together to talk about the challenges of our day, the conversation changes and we come to understand where the real power of America rests. We will realize that far more than who sits in the Oval Office, it is who sits at the kitchen table that matters. More than who sits behind the Resolute desk in the West Wing, it is who sits behind the desk at a small business or who kneels by the side of the desk of a struggling student that matters. More than who sits in the situation room, it is who sits in the living room that makes the difference for America.
It is time to show our children, grandchildren and the rest of the world that America is not on the verge of a civil war but on the verge of a civil debate. The depth of our dialogue, the civility of our communication, and the way we solve problems by discussing principles is what we should be displaying.
Let’s talk about who we are as a nation. Let’s talk about the principles that have enabled us to thrive and prosper. Let’s talk about tough issues. Let’s talk about the future we desire and the country we want to leave as our legacy.
It is time to come to the kitchen table, America. Let’s talk. My dad will provide the pancakes.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based think tank advancing free markets, civil society and community-driven solutions.
This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.