The following commentary is the first post on this site by guest blogger Renee Rhodes – welcome, Renee! You can check out her bio here as well as get a link to her own blog, “Gold Spun Gray.” Enjoy!
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Before my family established the Table of Understanding, I often found myself terrified to bring up controversial ideas or issues with my family. It wasn’t that I was ever afraid of getting in trouble, necessarily, but more that it would put me under emotional fire. For example, telling my mom that her stress is negatively affecting the rest of the family. Or, warning my father to be very careful of any complaints he might make about spending money while we celebrate his in-laws’ 50th anniversary. These aren’t always things a person wants to hear, especially from their 20 year old daughter.
So we introduced the Table of Understanding. Sounds so pretentious, doesn’t it? The four of us – my mother, father, brother, and I – would sit around the four edges of the dining room table and attempt to resolve the issue that brought us to the Table. The issues that we discussed ranged from trouble with friends, monetary agreements, or conflict among members of the family.
There are several rules of the Table of Understanding:
1. Do not speak before your turn. Do not interrupt the person who is speaking.
2. Do not criticize the views of anyone else at the Table.
3. If you feel a different approach should be taken in a situation, make an appeal and present your case.
4. If you feel hurt or offended, by all means, say something.
5. If you are not involved in the conversation, act as a mediator and make certain the above rules are followed.
The whole point of the Table of Understanding is – oh, imagine that – understanding. In attempting to understand the perspectives of others without conflict, we managed to resolve many problems and find the best ways to approach tough situations. The tradition was established about halfway through my high school career and it is quite versatile in its usefulness. It provides a way to confront without being too confrontational. It allows us to broach difficult subjects of drama at school or church without distraction. And it is also a great venue for seeking advice.
One of the biggest issues in any close-knit group of people is miscommunication. Without that level of understanding, friends, families, and relationships can fall apart. I’m not saying the Table is something every family should have, but I do suggest that everyone have a method for dealing with miscommunication. Not just in families either! In friend circles at school, small groups at church, and even in dating/marital relationships.
Misunderstandings occur wherever there is conversation. And conversation is everywhere. Especially in this day and age, conversation has leaked into social media and text messaging. The technological world is a world for misunderstandings. The human race cannot yet read minds, only the words before them. We cannot know what is meant, only what is said (and no, emoticons are not as helpful as society wants them to be). Misunderstandings abound when they are allowed.
However, acknowledging that misunderstandings will happen and having a plan in place for when they do can save everyone a world of grief.
Ever since we started meeting at the Table of Understanding, my family has been much more comfortable having difficult conversations. We hold each other accountable. We are open with each other about the things that trouble us. And we resolve issues quickly instead of letting old wounds fester. Though we are not immune, the damage miscommunication can cause has been minimized. We no longer have to stress about talking to one another because we have an easy way to resolve the issues that arise. We face the issues together instead of on our own.
There is an entire new year ahead of us that will inevitably bring many struggles. The best way to face them is to be ready for them.