Our family respects the no-phone rule at the dinner table, so face-to-face conversation isn’t new to us. But for many busy families, eating on the run, passing each other in the hall, and relegating the family meal to holidays is a matter of course.
I experienced this firsthand when our sons were in Little League and travel ball. While it was often tough to arrive home tired and late, we made home-cooked weekday meals a priority. Fast food was a last-minute indulgence and pizza delivery was strictly enjoyed with babysitters on weekends.
Still, I believe we were the only family that ate dinner together nearly every night. As a kid, my parents and I not only shared daily happenings at dinner but also our opinions on current events. Everything from U.S. involvement in Vietnam to local elections to fashion trends was fair game; my father declared during one family dinner that he would use Catholic Church ratings to determine whether I could see the latest movies once I began dating.
Truly, Europeans look askance at many American habits. They frown on our casual clothing. They eschew drive-thru fast-food. Our footwear embarrasses them. And, they especially hate the idea of rushing through meals.
They are appalled at the very idea of eating with one hand and reading the phone screen with the other. Meals are meant to be slowly savored with friends and loved ones in a comfortable setting. Stress-free eating is excellent for the digestion. When we take time at the table, fresh air piques our taste buds, food tastes amazing, and discussions are lively.
Young people are discovering anew the joys of conversation as well as the tasty aspects of leisure dining. For a generation raised with go-go technology, the art, pace, and nuance of in-person communication are foreign concepts.
As a longtime communications professional I came of age in smoky newsrooms equipped with noisy telephones, teletype machines, and typewriters. Without the internet to provide answers at our fingertips, we reporters quickly learned to successfully glean information through inquiries and interviews conducted in person and on the phone. In doing so we observed the body language of politicians, taught ourselves to read documents upside-down, and discovered how to ask questions to gather accurate responses.
One of my interns was so intimidated by the idea of phone interviews that she nearly dropped out of the public relations program. To her, talking on the phone to gather information was superfluous.
Indeed, learning to gather facts via phone conversations seems antiquated. Yet I believe that these skills of yesterday remain relevant, not only because they are quick and efficient but also because they help us hone qualities such as patience, compassion and understanding. Learning from others in person and through phone conversation teaches us to listen and observe.
In a time when we can tailor media consumption to avoid opposing viewpoints, taking time for one-to-one, face-to-face conversations is enlightening.
Like the parable of the blindfolded men exploring different parts of the elephant, today’s business people and entrepreneurs are limited by their own perspectives. Only when we shed our blindfolds and learn to appreciate our differences and commonalities can we open our imaginations to new possibilities.
Family dinners at the kitchen table or leisurely meals out with friends engage us with the warmth of each other’s laughter and expose us to the original ideas of other people. Truly, learning to see the world through others’ eyes offers us a global perspective, expands our thinking, and makes us open to new opportunities.