It was a cooperative feast. Edamame and guacamole, savory meatballs and delicate sushi rolls, deviled eggs and spicy chicken wings, olive bread and kale salad, cellophane noodles and Turkish delight.
Santa Barbara has seven sister cities. And once a year the committees for those cities gather to share a meal in celebration of United Nations Day. Everyone brings a dish, and many of them represent the cuisine from the countries where the sister cities are located. It’s a farflung group including Mexico, Japan, China, Greece, Montenegro, Ireland and the Phillipines.
This year, several tables at the feast were occupied by the delegation from Toba, Japan. Twenty four citizens from Toba spent a week in Santa Barbara commemorating fifty years of partnership between the two cities. Among other things, the mayor of Toba helped the mayor of Santa Barbara planted a cherry tree in a local park.
This simple gesture would have pleased Dwight D. Eisenhower. Despite the devastation of World War II, Eisenhower believed people everywhere were united in their desire for peace. At a White House conference in 1956, he challenged his audience with questions that could have been lifted from Cooperative Wisdom:
- How do we dispel ignorance?
- How do we present our own case?
- How do we strengthen friendships?
- How do we learn of others?….
- How do we improve the lot of both of us?
Sister Cities International was one way to answer those questions. Eisenhower was convinced that diplomatic relations between countries would improve if ordinary citizens could get to know each other. For the past sixty years, the Sister Cities program has facilitated person-to-person relationships. Sister Cities develop partnerships that promote cultural exchanges, community development and economic opportunities. Today, their network of citizen diplomats includes 570 communities in more than 150 countries.
The relationship between Toba and Santa Barbara is especially inspiring. Seventy five years ago, their respective countries were at war. Now citizens of the two cities feel such a strong bond that they help each other in times of trouble. In 1990, when fire destroyed more than 600 homes in Santa Barbara, the citizens of Toba donated $15,000 for restoration projects. In 2011, when a tsunami devastated Toba, citizens of Santa Barbara reciprocated. They raised over $30,000 to help rebuild platforms for the seaweed and oyster farms that are so important to Toba’s economy.
Under ordinary circumstances, the Sister Cities don’t tackle diplomatic problems directly. Instead, events as simple as this annual feast lay the groundwork for Cooperative Wisdom. People prepared for the event by digging out traditional recipes so they could bake the bread and season the meatballs and assemble the salads that represented these seven cities. And then they gathered together to sample what’s delicious from the point of view of other people.
Experiences like these get us in the habit of being open to other people and their perspectives. That openness is becomes the basis for respect. And respect, in turn, becomes the basis for inclusive integrity, an essential component in Cooperative Wisdom. Whatever problems we might have with other people, we can’t possibly find durable solutions unless we take into account what matters from their point of view.
During the months ahead, most people will feast with family and friends. But we might also want to be alert for opportunities to break bread with people who don’t ordinarily sit at our tables. Sharing a meal with someone from another culture, another faith or another neighborhood can be a great pleasure. It can also be a first step away from conflict and toward cooperation that will benefit our communities, our countries and our world.