Last week, Beechwood Arts & Innovation held its 1st-ever Ben Franklin Dinner.
Modeled after the Junto — a club Franklin created for “mutual improvement” of the self, the community and society — BFDs draw together a dozen or so guests from a diverse cross-section of cultures and generations, with a mix of professions from the arts, science, business, civics and education.
Each Ben Franklin Dinner begins with a toast and a bite to eat. After a short artistic or music performance comes dinner. A guided conversation ensues, around that evening’s topic.
One of the attendees at Beechwood Arts was Alicia Cobb. She says:
Last week I attended a dinner with 12 other people. I knew the hosts but most of the others I had never met, or only in passing.
When I arrived I quickly realized I was completely different than everyone. I felt out of place for the first 10 minutes or so. A woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. We talked for 10 minutes, before the facilitator got our attention.
The topic of the dinner discussion was empathy. As you read this, take a moment to define empathy for yourself. What does it mean to you?
We were asked to do this. Every answer was different, but similar. Each person had a different point of view, but we all took the time to really think about them.
After 2 hours of discussion, I realized I wasn’t that different. We all had very diverse backgrounds, but were brought into the room for a reason. That was the whole point.
One of these people was a 91-year-old woman with many stories. I was intrigued by her essence; her independence, and how much pride she took in every word she said and every step she made.
I saw myself in this woman. I imagine that if I am blessed enough to make it to 91, I’ll be something like her.
I’m not the social butterfly that most people might think I am. I am sometimes socially awkward, and often struggle meeting new people. This is a challenge I’ve been working to overcome my entire life. Being around that table with this particular group struck a chord in me. I know I will never be the same again.
The point is: You belong. We all belong here or we wouldn’t be here. You may often feel out of place, but you deserve to be here.
I’ll practice the art of empathy more actively now. I’ll strike up conversations with strangers and go places I’ve never been because I want to, because I need to. The world needs more of this — the ability to be different yet the same. Thank you to our hosts who challenged us in such a way.
Go have conversation with people you think you have nothing in common with. Go places you’ve never been. Find some kind of common ground with someone you are totally opposed to. Practice empathy; put yourself in another person’s shoes and really feel what they are feeling.
You can’t grow in your comfort zone. Get out of there. Let the healing begin.
In 1727 — the year Ben Franklin held his 1st dinner — a copper beech tree on Weston Road was just a sapling.
Eighty years later, the home that is now Beechwood was built.
Two centuries after that, Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito own and love Beechwood.
They share it with wonderfully diverse people, through their Beechwood Arts & Innovation program. Now they’ve added Ben Franklin Dinners to it.
Franklin started them decades before we became a country. Today, we need them more than ever.
(Click here to read more about Beechwood Arts’ 1st Ben Franklin Dinner.)