Life Lessons from Potluck Suppers

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My father was a Lutheran Pastor, so I spent a lot of my youth at that staple of American church life, the potluck supper. Here’s some of what I learned at those amazing events.

Life gets richer when you try new things. You can eat what you always eat, or you can try things you’ve never tried before. I learned that trying new things opened up wonderful new worlds.

Only a few dishes are excellent. That’s the way it is in life, excellence is rare and should be treasured.

There are useful and awful ways to respond when people ask you what you think of their dish. At the potlucks, most of the people who ask you what you think of their dish aren’t asking for critique, they’re asking for praise.

Brutal honesty is way overrated. It destroys relationships and rarely improves the next version of a dish. So phrases like “gag a goat” are best left unsaid.

Praise the great dishes. For the rest praise something you liked about it. If you can’t find something you like, praise the effort or the appearance or the novelty of the dish. You may substitute the word “work” for “dish” in the above.

People expect you to participate. When I was an adult and working long hours, I often went to church potluck suppers without making a dish. I’d pick something up at the store and I thought that was OK.

I learned that it wasn’t from one of the women of the church. She put her arm around my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Since you didn’t cook anything, maybe you can help us clean up.”

From then on, I made it a point to help out with set-up and clean-up and making sure people were fed and happy. That changed “Did you see, he just bought a cake on the way over” to “He works so hard that he can’t cook anything, but at least he brought something and he’s very helpful.”

If you don’t bring anything but your appetite to a potluck, you may think you’re getting away with something, but you’re the loser. Relationships matter and the joy is in the participating.

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