Family Mealtimes: The One Thing

Did you watch Fiddler on the Roof last week? What tradition or ritual did you revive or adopt? Traditions inform and nurture our purpose and reason for living.

If you could revive or adopt only one new ritual at this time, I would like to suggest the one with the greatest power to improve your marriage, your family relationships, and even your education—and, additionally, it yields immediate results. 

When was the last time your family gathered around the table for dinner and conversation together?

Educational tradition frequently begins in the home, or in our lives, as we sit around the table sharing a meal together. This is a time when you can talk about what you are reading, learning, and thinking. You know you are making progress when this ritual is rarely, if ever, neglected. Take a moment to note your recent dinnertime experiences: How were the conversations? How often were they interrupted by electronic distractions?

A Revealing Exercise

In 2018 the Swedish Furniture company IKEA invited families to reconnect with each other. During a brief three-minute ad, four families were challenged to answer questions about other family members over Christmas Dinner. If their answers were correct, they could continue eating— but if they gave a wrong answer, they were required to leave the table. Gradually each table starts to empty because of how little they really knew about the lives of their loved ones whom they may see only briefly in their homes every day. Their responses, full of regrets, were sobering. 

A Chance to Go Deeper

Ritual and ceremony are said to be necessary for the family, and they are sorely lacking in our modern world. The family has to be in sacred unity, believing in the permanence of what is taught, especially if its ritual and ceremony are to express and transmit the wonder of the moral law, which it alone is capable of transmitting— a power which makes it unique and especially useful in a world devoted to the secular. And when that power disappears, as it has, the family has, at best, a transitory togetherness. People sup together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life. Educational TV marks the high tide for family intellectual life. (The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom)

New technologies have radically changed the way we relate to those around us and, while undoubtedly useful, they are inadvertently negatively affecting our capacity to relate to others. In fact, recent research by the University of Chicago shows that the mere presence of a mobile phone on a table reduces the cognitive depth of conversation. I need to change this in my own dinner-time ritual.

All Good Things Require Effort

What is the answer? Having a meal together, one where you can go beyond talking about people and things and into the realm of ideas. Sharing our aspirations, our struggles of the day, and ideas over a meal is a ritual that cannot be lightly passed over. Educator and religious leader David O. McKay said, “All good things require effort. That which is worth having will cost part of your physical being, your intellectual power and your soul power.”

A few weeks ago, I invited you on a noble and joyful voyage of learning for 15 minutes each day. Have you begun? Pick up that book you have been promising yourself to read.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There are 850,000 volumes in the Imperial Library at Paris. If a man were to read industriously from dawn to dark for sixty years, he would die in the first alcove. Would that some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books and alighting upon a few true ones, which made him happy and wise, would name those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.” Emerson’s wish, which is the great need of thousands of earnest, ambitious people, has been fulfilled. The fulfillment is Dr. Charles Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf of Books known as the Harvard Classics. (Harvard Classics Reading Guide)

Summer is almost over. It’s time for all of us to get back to school. Reserve your mealtimes for each other and help each other find greater purpose and meaning in your lives. You will only ever be as free as what you know.

Our happiness is greatly determined by sharing those discoveries with and for others.

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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