Shape matters

Family table in the round.

While some may get a rouse out of the saying, “size matters,” I’d like to argue that it’s shape that matters most. Maybe I should provide some context so you don’t think I’m eluding to childish innuendos.

A conversation this weekend had me thinking about the effectiveness of the table in fostering an environment for dinnertimes where we engage in worldly discussions – what on earth was Berlusconi doing while he was in power, whether or not you agree with your city’s never-ending road construction and about the bullying your child witnessed in the school cafeteria. The table itself holds a lot of potential, which can be enhanced or diminished by one key factor… shape.

Think about this: square and rectangular tables have corners. They cut people off. It’s hard to pull up an extra chair without being left outside the set perimeter. In the back left corner, aunt Suzy and cousin Jimmy are talking about the newest Adam Sandler movie; on the right side, Tim and Larry are placing bets on how long the NBA lockout will last; Dad, at the head, stares bewildered at the number of conversations spurting all around him, yet he can’t connect with any group because he’s isolated at his end of the table!

Now switch to this concept: round tables have no nooks or crannies in which to hide. They invite people in. Want to pull up a seat? You’re more than welcome. We’re glad to sacrifice a little elbow room to let you enter the conversation. The long, curvaceous circumference beckons aunt Suzy, cousin Jimmy, Tim and Larry to answer Dad’s question about Grandma’s depression. No one is isolated. You can see everyone’s face – so you better be looking your best. Just kidding. At round tables, I envision more acceptance rather than judgment. Why? I’m not sure – maybe it’s just because round tables seem to want you there.

Now, I grew up with a rectangular table and I remember dinners very fondly. Yet, there were usually three of us, and then two. The conversation was all in that little bubble. All of our faces were exposed and in a way, we had a small enough group that it operated like that round table I’m advocating for.

In the case of bigger families, dinner parties, or groups with odd numbers, I think round is the way to go. When it comes to dinnertime, I’m serious about conversation. Someday, I’ll have the choice between buying a round table or a rectangular table for my future home and I can guarantee you that I’ll be choosing the circle. From the wise words of a childhood song, “A circle is round. It has no end.” I choose the option of wanting my dinnertime to be full of “endless possibility.”

The next time you sit around a table, see what you notice about the interactions. Does shape really matter? You be the judge.

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