This week a wonderful friend and fellow table traveller introduced me to a new word - commensality. It turns out commensality is the idea of the practice of eating together - in Latin it means “together at the table”. It also has a sociological meaning - the term “commensality” refers to the positive social interactions - developing relationships, establishing identity, learning new things - that are associated with people eating together.
It embraces the ideas that the table is the original approach to networking and eating together in this way makes us human. Commensality conveys the idea that in eating together around the table we come together to complete one another not compete with one another. To learn from our differences not lay into each other over them. Every organisation and leader should learn to practice commensality. Why?
The table is characterised by dialogue not monologue.
Everyone at the table (not just the host) is seen, heard and known, championed and challenged. Sometimes the table is mine and sometimes it’s yours but whoever owns it is always ours. The table facilitates the practice of talking with me not at me. I leave better equipped, not just with a better explanation. I leave with stories not soundbites. I leave with as many better questions as I do better answers.
Around the table we all get to sit face to face.
No looking up. No looking down at one another. We offer the “little ones” a high chair so they can see and reach and participate in the conversation and the cuisine. One of the most beautiful and powerful things about the table is it’s a great leveller. It’s an egalitarian place where we get to communicate our equality and unity in the form of community. There is headship but not hierarchy. An invitation to the table is an invitation to be equal. It’s an expression of our shared humanity. The fact we have more in common than divides us.
Sometimes things look different from the table.
The table offers us a different perspective shaped by the views of others. Our own thoughts served back to us seasoned with what others can see that we can’t.
“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
The table is meant to be messy
The table is about hospitality and not productivity, progress or agenda. It’s about making a difference not making an impression. It’s about participation not performance - and when we all get involved things can get messy, very messy indeed. The mess, a message from the table that it’s OK to be our messy selves. The table reminds us we can only be accepted for who we really are not who we pretend to be. The table invites us to be authentic, to leave the table a better version of ourselves having been ourselves as messy as that can be. Let’s hear it for messy tables where we all get to show up, serve up, mess up and clean up!