conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘group

What Good Is a Group?

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The occasional spark. The intentional fire.

I’ve been wondering this lately: what good is a group?

Mrs. Kirkistan and I lead a small group that regularly meets together to read ancient texts. At the moment we’re slowly going through Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It’s riveting stuff.

There comes a time in the life of every small group where people start to bow out. Life gets in the way. Work, sickness, commitments and gradually the small group is, well, really small. Only a few show.Group-04172015

Even so—with only one or two showing up—some magical spark can happen in the course of an ordinary conversation.  We talked about the pointed words Jesus had to say about lust and adultery—old terms we don’t hear much in our culture—experiences so common they seem to be just expected parts of everyday life. In the course of hashing through those words, we talked about seeing people as objects. And suddenly I was making connections with Levinas and Buber and realizing I am also in need of reforming bad thought habits.

These conversational sparks happen at work too. Yesterday I was lamenting to myself the ways large corporations dampen the enthusiasm of otherwise bright, motivated people. In the middle of that thought a client returned a call that we had cut short the day before. He had been thinking through our conversation and had five or six things to add. This client—from a very large corporation—had found a way to take personal ownership of the process and our discussion had a sort of breathless excitement to it.

This is rare.

And cool.

Our seemingly ordinary conversation had unearthed some live wire. And a group of us were doing our best to act on it.

So—all this to say that groups can do things individuals cannot. And sometimes a group conversation can create something brand new.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

“You Should Care” Versus “Why You Should Care”

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Just Say No to this Toxic Assumption

This Sol Stein quote on high-powered facts failing to invite others in reminded me that we are at our best when we express our passion as an invitation. The best teachers are the ones excited about a topic. Their excitement is itself an invitation into the topic. The best salespeople are those humans who use the product and love it—which is why word-of-mouth remains the most sought-after form of advertising. The most persuasive evangelists are those whose lives have been altered by faith or by an Apple product (which is itself a kind of religion).

Flowering-4-02182015

Alternatively, the worst college classes, the worst business meetings, the worst seminars are those where the professor/supervisor/speaker assumes you care as much as she does. That assumption leads immediately down deep into depths of details without painting the larger picture. And many of us are desperate for the larger picture. We want to see how our work or faith makes a difference in the rest of life.

A basic truism of life as an insider is that we stop talking about why we are here (in this company or department or group or church) because we’ve heard other people’s stories and we don’t need to go over that ground again. Pretty soon we assume we are all on the same page with the meaning of our activities together. Every once in a while the boss of your boss may say something about why we are here and why its important. But day-to-day it is largely assumed.

The outsider knows nothing of this.

The outsider comes to a group not with a blank slate so much as a slate marked by other groups he has dealt with. The person on the fringe trying to understand the group wants to hear the big meaning statements, the “Why we are here” stuff. And this is precisely where corporate talk falls flat. Corporate talk about meaning and mission and purpose is often vapid precisely because there is no human behind it.

But when the outsider makes contact with the insider who is properly enthused about the meaning-making activities of the company or group, that is a very different story. Mission and purpose come alive when demonstrated by another life being altered.

So—two things:

  1. Don’t assume the people around you are insiders.
  2. Keep talking about why we are here doing these things together. These orienting, meaning-making discussions help everyone. It is too important to leave to the VP of mission.

 

More takes on “transformation” here.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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