Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Joanne Rusch, Deb Dendy, Ron & Michelle

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Episode 17: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Michelle asks Joanne first: What does “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” trigger for you?

Joanne says she thinks of family, wondering who’s going to show up. Is there family drama? Is it family members she hasn’t seen in a while? No matter who shows up, she tries to turn it into something positive.

Joanne shares a story about one of her nieces who had always been a “contrarian” and would be dramatic about what foods she would eat as well as social topics. Years later when they got together for a family meal, she was amazed at the way her niece had evolved into a teacher who cared about her ESL students, and Joanne wished she’d been able to be there throughout the transition.

Michelle and Joanne discuss the importance of mood -- their own and others -- and how you do your best to dance with whatever shows up.

Then, Deb gets a chance to share what “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” triggers for her.

She says her family lost their dad to a long battle with cancer this year, and it’s going to be the first holiday without him. Her family has a long tradition of going to Mexico for the holidays, and now they’re trying to figure out what this year is going to look like.

Deb says she and her mom have been thinking about ways to get through the holidays, and Michelle asks her to share as many people are likely in the same position this year, with someone who isn’t at the table. Deb says they’re going to have a slideshow to bring happy memories to the forefront, trying to make a new tradition.

Michelle shares that her family went through the same thing last year, losing her mother a few weeks before Christmas. She realized that by finding ways to keep her memory alive with them, they were helping everyone around them. They set their mood of celebration.

Deb says it helps to think about what her dad would have wanted. They have funny traditions and contests, and her dad loved being a part of it, so keeping those traditions alive is a way to honor her dad and celebrate each other.

Michelle asks Ron: What does “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” trigger for you?

Ron says he thinks back to being a kid and going to big family gatherings. He didn’t have to guess who was coming to dinner, because it was the same people every year. He thinks about the stories in his head he had about different sets of relatives -- the “farm folk” and the “city folk” -- and he says he is still learning to be more responsible with the stories he creates about others.

He shares that he’s been at recent family gatherings where he’s seen a shift, from people checking their watches and wanting to leave, to the time passing so quickly that they’re surprised how late it is. Enough people shifting their perspective was enough to change the experience of the group as a whole.

When Ron thinks of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” this year he’s thinking of “who is he creating that is coming to dinner.”

Michelle asks Ron what he did differently to shift his perspective, that had people changing from looking at their watches to engaging in the moment.

Ron says that he only has speculations about what happened, but he’ll share what he did. Several groups from his family participated in the Macklin Connection program. When they were traveling to the family gatherings, they would be intentional about who they were creating themselves to be. And even though the entire family didn’t participate in the program, those who did were enough to help shift the group as a whole.

Michelle shares one of her family traditions. Now that her family is smaller, they invite other people with small families, singles, and other people who are alone for the holidays to their Thanksgiving celebration. Sometimes they meet people for the first time that day, and while that can bring anxiety, it also can be a lot of fun.

Ron asks the group: What experiments can you run this year at your holiday gatherings to open up the space to create something new?

Michelle says her experiment is to create everyone who walks through the door as “enough.” Whatever they bring as themselves is enough. It helps set the tone.

Deb says Michelle’s answer triggers her to think about expectations. For example, is the table set perfectly, or is it messy? If it’s messy, it’s because people are there being human, and whatever happens, it’s going to be perfect.

For Joanne, she says that last year she realized that everyone holds a story of what’s necessary for it to “be” Thanksgiving -- for example, if you don’t have the Brussels sprouts, it’s not Thanksgiving. This year, she wants to find out from her family: What is that memory of Thanksgiving that you carry? And what will you create for next year? She says it’s a combination of looking back and looking forward. It can help people take a look at what they’ve learned about themselves in the past year as well.

Ron says the experiment he’s going to run is to “try it on.” Whatever other people are doing, and wherever they’re coming from, he wants to be curious and try it on. He says it helps him build empathy, understanding, and not judging. He wants to think, “What would it be like if I were them?”

Deb says Ron’s experiment triggered her to think about allowing others to contribute, even though it can be easiest to just tell everyone else to stay out of the kitchen, for example. How can she allow for contributions from others? She’s going to try that on and see how it works.

Michelle says it makes her think about the “perfectness” of how some family meals seem like they’re supposed to be, but it’s really not that big of a deal if a certain food item were to come out “late.”

Ron says that, thinking back to when he was a kid, so much of a family gathering was preparing the food together and then sharing it, while these days people are more likely to prepare their dishes separately and then show up. He wonders what it would be like if they went back to the older tradition of preparing together.

Deb says that making tamales together in Mexico was the most fun part of the day, even though the food wasn’t very good at all.

Wrapping up, Michelle asks the group what showed up for them today.

Joanne says she’s reflecting on accidental encounters vs. purposeful encounters and the stories she creates about others. She wants to be more intentional about giving people the space to be who they show up as.

Deb says that she’s thinking about how she creates herself and how she can create others -- and be purposeful about that creation.

Ron says that he created the responsibility that a single event can change the relationship over the long term. When things go well once, it can open a new space for things to go in a new direction.

Michelle says that, for her, it was the idea of having an experiment. She wants to be open and create that new mood of everybody being enough. And if she does that, what will it change for others? And how can it have a lasting effect?

Join us to hear how understanding the idea of “self talk” — and what you can do about it — could change your relationships and life for the better.

Episode Summary

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Ron and Michelle, along with Joanne Rusch and Deb Dendy, talk about holiday gatherings with family, traditions, and running experiments to create something new in this episode of “The Story in Your Head.”