Family Dinners, Shared Meals, And The Importance Of Social Engagement

The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s conversation with Warren Farrell on the role fathers play in a child’s development. You can listen to or watch the full podcast on DailyWire+.

Podcast time: 1:16:11

Imagine your family has a story, and the story is where we came from, where we are, and where we’re going together as a unit. Then each of the individuals within that story has a story. What you’re doing in those family dinners — that interaction time — is you’re taking the individual story threads and you’re weaving them together to make the collective story, that keeps everyone up-to-date and on the same page and able to empathize in a deep manner. Because if I don’t know where you are or what you’re up to, I can’t figure out what you’re thinking or feeling. So I have to know what story you’re acting out right now, and so do you. In order for you to know that, and for me to know it, you have to be able to tell your story. And I have to be able to ask you questions about it.

I think the other thing that’s really important about the shared meal is that, you know, human beings are really weird creatures because we seriously share food. And we’re social eaters. People don’t eat well if they eat on their own. It’s deeply rooted into us that idea of sharing food. Part of the extended process of socialization is to get everybody to sit down around food, to be polite and thankful for the fact of the food, to enjoy that, but then also to be able to give and take all that’s being shared. I would say, if the most fundamental element of socialization is something like the embodiment of rough and tumble play, the next layer on top of that would be the ability to sit down and share food and have civilized discourse.

[Dr. Peterson continues the conversation on what constitutes civilized discourse at the family table a few minutes later in the discussion.]

Part of it is to know the story before you offer criticism. Carl Rogers had good advice about that. You probably already know this, but it’s worth reiterating for people who don’t. Rogers’s rule was, when you’re listening to someone, first of all, don’t assume that either you or they know what they’re talking about or what they’re going to say. Because people think by talking, so you have to give them a chance to get it all out before you jump on it because they might change their own mind in midstream. So that’s important. Let them formulate the problem before you jump in with the criticism. But then the next thing is — and I really love this and I think it’s really useful — that once the person has laid out their story, you get to say, ‘This is what I heard you say. Do you agree with my formulation?’ That stops the listener. First of all, it indicates to the speaker that the listener actually listened. Or if there’s an error, then the speaker can say, ‘No, that’s not what I meant at all.’ And then there can be some clarification. But it also forces the listener to not turn the speaker into a straw man.

It isn’t only that I have to summarize what you said. I have to summarize what you said in a way that you agree with. That’s also a useful technique if there happens to be some wide variation in verbal ability among the participants, and there might be because of age, for example. Even if you’re somewhat incoherent and stuttering and partial in your formulation, if I’m an older sibling, say, I might be able to summarize it back for you in a way that’s actually helpful to you from the perspective of a cognitive scaffold.

We know that human beings organize their personalities at the highest level through narrative, and that narrative is not only thought; it’s spoken. You speak your personality into being in these sorts of shared environments that you’re describing. Without that, your story is fragmented and incoherent, and so are you. If shared meals weren’t so damn important, people wouldn’t have evolved the capacity to engage in them, right? They’re central to our social life. To have that abandoned in a family is really a catastrophe.

To hear the rest of the discussion, continue by listening or watching this episode on DailyWire+

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.

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