Making Space at the Table

In a time when Americans seem more divided than ever, the suggestion that we "make more room at the table" continually comes to the surface as one way of addressing issues, figuring out how to move forward, and finding common ground. Making more room at the table means creating space for people who aren't already part of the conversation. There are a few ways this can happen. Making more room at the table could mean buying a bigger table. While that's an okay approach to making more room at the table, it takes effort. You have to find a new table you like, get rid of the existing table, re-configure the seating arrangement, buy more table settings.  By the time you do all that, people aren't even hungry anymore...they've found somewhere else to eat. Luckily, there is another way to make more room at the table....everybody scooting in, making themselves a bit smaller, so there's room at the table you already have. When you add somebody to the table in this way, all the attention is focussed on them- people make sure they have silverware, pass the food, explicitly welcome them. Making room at the table is not just about creating space, it's also about making yourself a bit smaller so that the needs, opinions, and experiences of those you are asking to join you can be elevated.

So how can we make ourselves smaller? Make space at the metaphorical table? 

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Here are a few ideas: 

  • De-center yourself. Sometimes making space at the table means intentionally stepping away from the center of the circle. In stepping away from the center, you are able to widen the circle and shift the focus. Move from your favorite seat. Offer your seat to somebody else. Take the corner seat that nobody wants. It's so easy to navigate the world as the star of our own show instead of playing the supporting role. Even in movies and books, the main character needs to be sidelined at times so that another character has the space they need to work out an issue, to develop. 
  • Intentional Silence & Deep Listening. Life Coach Heather Plett offers this: “Intentional silence is one of the most important principles of holding space. To hold space for other people (and for ourselves) we have to know when to speak and when to remain silent. When our egos get in the way, we want to offer advice, improve on someone’s story, control the outcome, or at least let people know how smart we are. All of those things are detrimental to the process of holding space. They draw attention away from the person you’re holding space for and draw it toward yourself.” Sometimes the best thing we can do to make space at the table is be quiet and honor the voices that need to be elevated. Being heard is a way of being loved and truly listening is a way loving well. We don't always have to be the savior, the expert, the champion. When we listen without worrying about what we are going to respond with, we are able to process things more carefully and see the humanity in others, the things that connect us. 
  • Make a relational covenant. Perhaps you need to make a promise to yourself to recognize that we can be bound by the way treat each other more than by shared beliefs. I am uniquely situated given my evangelical upbringing and my now more progressive beliefs. I have people in my life who are deeply conservative and those who are deeply liberal. At the end of the day, I can choose to always search for the humanity in others and value our commonalities more than I seek to change their belief system. That doesn't mean I am silent about my beliefs, and it doesn't mean we have to be best friends, it just means I try to honor the humanity in others, value the many wonderful things about them, and recognize when we need to take a step back from the debate and reconnect as humans.  

How are you making space at the table?

How can you make yourself smaller so that there is space for others?

How can you practice these values in your life?