Reflections on moving through to the other side

December 27, 2010 |  by  |  Uncategorized

“I don’t give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes

The Conversare experiment is based on the observation that, for the most part, when we socialize in places such as restaurants, pubs, hotels, churches, clubs … it is invariably with people who we already know.

The starting point was this simple idea:

Is it possible to create contexts in which people converse naturally with others who they may not know, in a public place? And find the experience to be enjoyable, profound and fulfilling?

‘YES!’ Here is an account of my observations and feelings about how this answer has been arrived at experimentally. For it is after moving through ‘some complexity’ that a deeper understanding is being revealed of the essence – the kernel – of the experiment and what could emerge from it.

I hope that this reflection gives you a taste of what has been happening and what is evolving. And that it helps you to see the enormous potential significance of the experiment. How the enterprise is to be  ‘rolled out’ further afield will be touched on later, possibly with your input. <smile>

The first gathering to test this idea was held in a tiny pub in Central in Hong Kong, in Dec 2008. It attracted this most affirming comment:

“great concept indeed … think you just hit it right at bull’s eyes … long wished for in the recess of our minds but not quite realized or voiced! great going alan … !”
Velda Kwan

Participants in first Conversare in Hong Kong

This was a success in that the pioneering participants reported that they did indeed find this to be most satisfying.

What was it that they experienced? The opportunity to meet with someone who they had not previously met – or at least did not know well – to engage in conversation about whatever came into their minds over a meal. In the presence of a host who provided a few guidelines on how the gathering would be conducted. Once they had finished their meal all to come together to swap observations and feelings on what had transpired during their talking in pairs. And then go home.

The point was made in the invitation and by the host of the event that:

. this is not ‘networking’ in the sense of making new contacts for later purposes such as doing business. Chances were that the participants may not ever meet again.

. the purpose is to engage with one other person in a situation of ‘unknowing’ in order to learn something about their perspectives on life. With the thought that ‘the person represents humanity and I am curious to explore a little about this.’

. the essence of such encounters is purely to experience learning about another person –and perhaps about oneself too.

On reflection (<smile>) these ideas were likely not expressed with the clarity at the beginning as they are now!

What has transpired in the following two years of continuing with the experiment which has led to ‘new found’ clarity?

It is the learning which has emerged in the course of staging Conversare events in diverse venues, among which have been:

. A series of monthly gatherings during 2009 and into 2010 in a larger venue, Café Zambra in Wanchai. This has an upstairs room which is most suitable for the purposes we had in mind, at the time.

. A brief ‘test’ in a local pub in Discovery Bay.

. Several gatherings in a new community centre in Discovery Bay.

. An event in Padang, in West Sumatra in Indonesia, the first such happening outside of Hong Kong.

The learnings from these?  While there was ‘something’ in the idea it was latent and not quite revealed. Evidence for the existence of the ‘kernel’ came from testimonials such as:

“I am intrigued by the issue of connections and personal relationships in the modern world. When urban living relegates people to having thinner human/ physical connections and how personal endeavours/ enterprises like Conversare come in to redress this gap and natural human craving for close personal contact.”
Mani G

Having lived in Hong Kong for a long time now, I felt that many people rub shoulders with each other and do not get a chance to get to know each other. Having an event like Conversare is very precious indeed – getting people to talk and connect with each other at a deeper and more genuine level, and to have fun.  Going forward, I would love to continue to participate.
Susie L

Moving out of one’s ‘comfort zone’ into the true comfort of really speaking, really listening but light heartedly.
Valerie D

And yet the precise nature of this essence was not clear. Evidence for this was feeling was the substantial amount of effort which went into organizing and advertising the events; ‘something is amiss.’ Plus the ‘lukewarm’ response generally except for a few people who provided continuing support for the project.

And so to the revealing of the ‘kernel’…

An element of complexity ‘crept’ into the conduct of the events. This was that:

. the dinner conversations would happen in groups of four, rather than the original in pairs.

. there would be activities to complement the conversing over a meal, among which were singing, dancing and participatory comedy (each group to come up with a funny ‘take’ on given topics).

Suffice for now to say that conversing in pairs enables total inclusion for everyone and also more depth of exploration with the one partner. And that the ‘complementary activities’, while fun for some, distract from the essence of the Conversare experience.

Which is … (drum roll) … to engage with one other person in a manner which is

‘Simple and deep’

How does this resonate with you?

I wonder what wider significance do you see in it?

Could it be that a Conversare approach enables people to feel ‘grounded’ as a member of humanity?

How may others use this way of connecting for their purposes?

I will touch later on where, when and how this ‘other side’ description came into being.  And on how to help anyone who participates feel confident in talking with a complete stranger …

Alan Stewart

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