Greetings from Washington, D.C. where your Nation’s Capital has cleared out, flushing from its system presidential impeachment and so much expressed anger and indigestion. On Thursday evening, at our airports and train stations, hundreds of thousands of business dressed professionals, rolling enormous suitcases behind them, escaped on planes and trains for destinations less familiar—and perhaps warmer, prettier, and more hospitable.
On Monday afternoon, I walked into a Bath & Body Works store and discovered an unruly mob scene; agitated shoppers formed a serpentine queue from the store entrance to the checkout area, their arms and baskets carried so many candles and lotions and those plug-in wallflower thingies that they all struggled to keep gifts from dropping to the floor and their tempers in check.
I’m no economist, and I know that the U.S. unemployment rate is historically low, but my intuition tells me that our levels of grievance, frustration, and sadness are at an all-time high. It’s like the Misery Index President Jimmy Carter made famous returned from a 40-year slumber to bellow, “I’m baaa-ack!”
Work has turned epically sour. And, I am convinced that people who struggle with debt or underemployment to make ends meet are at a point of work-crisis not experienced since The Great Depression.
Settling School Lunch Debt
Adelle Settle will be our guest on The Tightrope Podcast on Friday, December 27. She is an attorney in the federal sector who started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Settle the Debt which pays off school lunch balances across Prince William County, Virginia. Although Prince William is the second-largest municipality in Virginia, and among the wealthiest, there are many working poor people whose children arrive at school unable to eat lunch with the other kids, because their parents or caregivers struggle to make ends meet.
Settle the Debt has already paid of $40,000 in school lunch balances. The response of people to Adelle’s noble nonprofit has been impressive. And yet, she is ever mindful that nearly $300,000 in unpaid balances remain [unsettled] in the county’s other public schools.
Can Food Can Help Us Find Meaning and Community in Life and Work?
One of the most joyous experiences happened while I was on vacation in The Netherlands. My wife and I sat down at a communal table for evening supper. The locale for our repast was a beautiful family farm in the Friesian region of the country. There we sat—young and old, wealthy and fixed income earning—American, Australian, British, French, Japanese, Filipino, and Dutch—enjoying simple conversation, delicious food, and genuine interest in one another.
That is what I think is missing from our experience: it is December 2019, we are together yet so alone. Our attention is turned inward, perhaps triggered by some fight or flight mechanism, and, it seems like many quietly suffer.
I wish we were at a point in our cultural development where food brought us together, much as it does in practically every other habitable place on the planet. I wish that food—like education—was offered free to all public school students. With simple provisions in place for those with food allergies or adherence to religious custom, I believe that our school children at the table sharing food could learn to engage as peacefully and joyfully with one another as we international strangers did in The Netherlands.
Food is love. It can break tribal barriers and build strong and joyful communities of happy people leading meaningful lives and work. When we teach our youngest citizens that food can bring us together, then our best days lie ahead.
DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience, LLC. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope Meaningful Work Podcast. Please comment here to let us know how we are doing, and, to offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Photo credits: Communal dining, iStock Photo; Portrait, Adelle Settle.