Ben Franklin Meets Beechwood

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.

Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin

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.

Attendees at Beechwood's first Ben Franklin Day dinner. Alicia Cobb is in the bottom row, 2nd from right. Hosts Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu are in the middle row, center and far right.

Attendees at Beechwood’s first Ben Franklin Day dinner. Alicia Cobb is in the bottom row, 2nd from right. Hosts Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu are in the middle row, center and far right.

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.

beechwood-logoI’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. 

Beechwood House, with its magnificent copper beech tree.

Beechwood House, with its magnificent copper beech tree.

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.)

9 responses to “Ben Franklin Meets Beechwood

  1. Thank you for bringing such stories of hope in these challenging times, you are making an impact on so many.

  2. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    The sentence in the middle: “You belong, we all belong……..” is exactly what we need to hear this very morning and one that we need to repeat to everyone we see today and every day, friends and strangers alike. Thank you Dan. I echo what Aarti said. We need stories of hope in these challenging times. We need to remember how we got here and what it took to get here and then lend a hand.

  3. Does the lunch cost money to attend ?????? Wondering ???

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Thank you Frederic, Jeanine….and Dan for working hard to bring us all together as one humanity. We are not all different instead we are all unique and the same simultaneously. If everyone had this experience I am certain the world would be a different place….better, safer, and happier.

  5. How Cool are Jeanine & Frederic?
    Keeping Westport’s artistic consciousness alive!

  6. Much impressEd‼️

    Sent from my iPhone


  7. I totally love this “read”, as well as what the writer learned from the whole evening.

  8. Thanks, Dan, for posting Alicia’s touching note in response to this new BFD Series. It’s worth noting that we started hosting these dinners because many people in Beechwood’s community expressed a desire to connect with others about meaningful topics in an intimate setting. Frederic and I are so encouraged and inspired to live in a place where people are looking for dialogue and are open to exploring what they as individuals and we as a group can do in the face of troubling times. Everyone at the table was engaged in much the same way as Alicia and shared their own personal commitments to make things better as well as offering ideas for the community — and also ideas for how the arts can play a role. We are honored to be facilitators through Beechwood for this kind of openness which is very much needed at the moment.

  9. I am consistently impressed with Jeanine and Frederic’s creative energy, thirst for knowledge, and drive to bring people together through meaningful conversation. Such a great idea!