When I came to the US, I was told there are three subjects you don’t broach at a dinner, party or other social gathering: politics, money and eating habits. I don’t excel in small talk. I find it difficult to hear about the health issues of someone’s (who I might not see for a few months) great aunt (who I’ve never met). I crave meaningful interactions.
I can talk sports, but not baseball or American football – English soccer or cricket anyone? And I wonder why no one talks to me at parties? I love talking politics and can pass an evening enjoyably with an intelligent person further left or right of my opinion. But apparently this is on the no-no list and might explain why I’m not invited to many parties.
I am actually interested in people’s eating habits and their efforts to lose weight and stay healthy. Of course, I spoil it by sharing that I think most of the US’s problems would be solved if the entire country turns vegan. It might be that I’ve brought politics back into the conversation, but it doesn’t help my credibility that I’m holding a smoked salmon bagel.
And then there is the subject of money. I’m not sure if the guests at this dinner party have noticed, but we are in the middle of a horrendous recession. People are losing their homes, sacrificing medical needs, and losing their dreams of retirement with honor and respect.
People are hurting and chances are they are in this room. And I want to know so that I can be supportive, so that I don’t make things worse:
– I won’t offer to take your kid to Six Flags, knowing you have to cough up $40 for a ticket.
– I won’t suggest we go to a restaurant for dinner. I’ll invite you round to my house and fry up some sweet ‘n sour tofu. I have a two-buck Chuck that goes well with it.
– I won’t share my accomplishments at work when I know you are unemployed.
– And most importantly, I want to show that I care.
It makes me wonder. Do people really know what is happening if no one is talking. Sure we read newspapers (do we?), watch political TV shows (The Daily Show, anyone?), and peruse blogs. But all we hear about here are statistics.
It might be that 10% are unemployed and 13% don’t have health insurance, but the fact that 90% do work and 83% have health insurance alienates the minority in the room. It makes them ashamed and subconscious. Perhaps they didn’t even come to the party because they couldn’t bear to face the rest of us.
Money influences everything: our health, lifestyle, and the way we perceive each other. Moreover, it influences how we define our own self-worth. We need to smash this barrier of shame. We need for those friends who are hurting to know that we want them at the party because they are good people. They are our friends and family.
I’m not sure the answer is talking about baseball.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).