Lessons in Civility Learned at The Longest Table

People sitting at a long dinner table

Our country is suffering from a serious lack of civility. From elected officials to protestors, to even some of our own neighbors, America has become a rude society. And with just under 100 days until this November’s coming mid-term congressional elections, it’s going to get worse.

How can we as a country do a better job of having productive and respectful conversations? How can we engage in civil, constructive discourse about how we collectively can make our communities better places to live, work and raise our families?

Earlier this summer, my wife and I attended “The Longest Table,” a community dinner organized by the Queen Anne’s County, Maryland public library. Billed as part of a broader “Choose Civility” community initiative, it was “an old-fashioned community dinner with people [we] do not know, to exchange stories and ideas about Queen Anne’s County.”

The night of the event, an approaching storm forced 120 dinner guests into Wye River Upper School’s auditorium (instead of tables outside the historic Centerville, Maryland County Court House). Seats were drawn at the door, and guests were assigned to one of three very long tables. Spouses and families were asked not to sit with each other.

At first, I was somewhat skeptical of the concept, but as dinner began, I became an enthusiastic participant. In a matter of minutes, I had the chance to meet four new “community neighbors,” including a rural farm-lending banker, a former U.S. Navy civilian engineer, a high-tech IT trainer (who worked from home) and a local youth minister.

With the former engineer serving as our table host, we ate family style while he led us in a discussion about ways in which we could improve life in rural Queen Anne’s County. It was interesting, inspiring and civil. We shared our ideas and expertise in an atmosphere of respect, focusing especially on the need for high-speed internet connectivity to help spur small business growth in the rural part of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Wye River Upper School (full disclosure, the school is a former Kalix client) provided an excellent setting to the dinner. While it was a last-minute venue, it could not have been a more fitting location since a deep respect for others is at the core of an independent school education.

Teaching civility at a young age is an essential part of what independent schools do best. Yes, they nurture the kind of collaborative brainstorming that I enjoyed at dinner that night. But independent schools’ mission of teaching students to be civil in the face of differing ideas and beliefs has never been more important or timely.

Is your local community ripe for a “Longest Table Dinner?” If so, learn more about it and how to create your own community initiative on civility at www.qacchoosecivility.org.

Jonathan Oleisky is President of Kalix Marketing

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Jonathan Oleisky

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