I miss the dinner table

Commentary by NaomiDelkamiller

Right now, our generation is being faced with conversation topics that even adults struggle with. The events of 2020 have sparked intense civil discourse about public health, race and politics (among other things).

Hard topics are rarely talked about anymore, but when they are, the conversation is not taken as seriously. 

Mrs. Amy McLeay, a sociology teacher at Marian, believes that the avoidance of difficult topics first stems from a lack of education of civil discourse–a style of conversation meant to enhance understanding between participants. “People want to make statements, but they don’t always know the opposition, and it’s not that you have to agree with [them], but you still have to validate there being a different opinion out there,” she said.  

Most of my conversation skills were learned at the dinner table throughout childhood: respect those whom you disagree with, listen patiently, and be productive in a discussion. When teaching me how to handle hard topics of conversation, my parents assumed these situations would take place face to face, which we now know is not always the case. 

“A lot of times we hide behind our devices,” McLeay said. “I think this generation has learned to communicate with technology too often, instead of having those in-person conversations.”

After posting a political opinion on my Instagram story last month, a user sent me a video outlining why my beliefs were wrong. I was immediately taken aback, and after letting them know that I do not expect them to agree, I reminded them that we all have a right to be respected. They responded by typing “lol don’t want to get in a fight over Instagram.” 

The sad truth about this is that most people I know have a similar story–someone is challenged for their behavior online and they immediately retreat to a lighthearted tone, acting like it didn’t mean anything.

If it didn’t mean anything, they wouldn’t have said something.  

The thing is, right or wrong, our generation has an incredible number of opinions. We speak our minds, advocate for change, and use social media to form communities we might not have otherwise. However, right now this is being overshadowed by our inability to hold respect for the opposition while still having a conversation with one another. No matter what your beliefs are, you have a choice to engage in civil discourse without entering the chat with a goal to “win the conversation.”

Back when I was first learning how to actively engage in hard conversation, most of my disagreements consisted of who got to sit shotgun, where to get lunch, and what movie to watch. Now, at 17, I am balancing social, political, and moral topics simultaneously. It’s complicated and messy–even for adults. “I think as parents we are still learning through some of these issues… I don’t think you can stray away from these conversations,” McLeay said. “That is what the dinner table is supposed to be for.”

As we approach the contentious presidential election this month, along with the rise and fall of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to remember that we are all approaching uncharted territory. “At the end of the day we are all still discerning and navigating through these difficult topics, and there needs to be a safe space to have these conversations,” McLeay said.

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