Something happens when people break bread together to talk about tough issues.
New Matrix Meals is a program in Chilliwack where organizers facilitate frank discussions in people’s homes.
“We’re creating dialogue through meal sharing,” said Jennifer Hawkins, Fraser Health community health specialist, speaking Tuesday at a Chilliwack Healthier Community breakfast. “And it’s an intimate setting. It’s breaking bread together; it’s very simple.”
It’s recreating the neigbourhood dynamic and providing a safe space to broach difficult topics like addiction.
The funding for New Matrix Meals was provided by the Centre for Addictions Research B.C., with local partner Pacific Community Resources Society managing the grant.
“Our project, when we’re looking at the purpose, is essentially about how we see each other,” said Hawkins. “And how does how we see each other impact how we are together, and how we act toward each other?
“What kind of neighbours are we in Chilliwack? Who is our neighbour in Chilliwack?” she asked, using questions to frame the New Matrix Meal experience.
Hawkins put up examples of current discourse to pepper her presentation, in the form of some dismissive reader comments on The Progress news stories, on topics like addictions, homelessness and substance use.
Samples of the comments flashed on the screen:
“We should all pitch in for bus passes and send this scourge back to where it came from,” wrote one person.
“Let them die. They chose this kind of life,” snapped another.
“Get rid of the junkies,” wrote one reader.
Even the comment “maybe you should educate your small mind about addiction,” separates one from another.
So a common characteristic of many of the comments was “disassociation,” she said, which emphasizes otherness and a distinction between “us” and “them.”
“Dialogue is meant to circumvent disassociation,” Hawkins said. “I was particularly struck by the comment that, ‘Citizens are numbed by the problem,’” she said.
So moving the sometimes dismissive discourse closer to real, open dialogue is key.
When some envision community dialogue as a concept, they think about someone “throwing a forum together” with a panel of experts who can talk, but the New Matrix Meals approaches community dialogue it in a completely different way.
“Since a lot of the discourse is really acrimonious and divisive, we wanted a new matrix,” she said.
It’s not about imposing a “matrix of thought” on anyone, she underlined.
“Dialogue is about a suspension of judgment that helps us to listen to each other.
“It’s about a new way of seeing each other. And so when we look at the word matrix, it’s not an imposition of a system.”
It’s a new environment in which to relate and see each other.
As much as possible, they’re taking past participants through multiple meals, which allows them to continue the dialogue.
The first one of three events held in the past year was hosted by Mayor Sharon Gaetz, and was attended by people from all strata of life.
To attend or host a future event, contact Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jutta Wykpis at email@example.com