By Karis Thompson
Photo Provided By GROUP THINK
Warm & Festive Greetings!
In this holiday season, I wanted to make a gift to you, yes you my faithful readers ever since February 2017, when I published my first article “5 Reasons Why I Stayed in Fargo.” This gift is one that I was blessed to be given by a mentor of mine named Karis Thompson. Karis guided me in my timid first step on the Concordia College as a freshman Rwandan international student to my community engagement initial ventures. I consider her as my older sister and mentor because I know I can turn to her for anything in my personal or professional life and she will either have an answer or know someone that does.
Now that I have prolonged the suspense, let us talk about the gift: the art of conversation, the art of dialogue and the art of communal verbal exchange when breaking bread is sadly challenged by social media and our numerous digital platforms. In the Summer 2015, I went to my first GROUP THINK event, a community conversation where speakers interact on stage on a subject matter that often is meticulously chosen to be edgy enough to make the audience step outside of their comfort zone because the speakers are being bravely and publicly vulnerable.
2020 is going to be an electric year for a myriad of reasons, therefore my gift to you is this template/example of how the art of conversing publicly with people from different cultural and thinking backgrounds is possible when we all agree to be courageous. Conversing is a central human trait because it takes courage to be publicly vulnerable and it takes courage to publicly recognize that another person’s opinion might be wiser than your own.
Noheli Nziza & Umwaka Mushya Muhire! (Merry Xmas & Happy New Year in KinyaRwanda) See you Next Year!
Why do conversations matter? (Deep talk, not small talk.)
During an interview, Stephen Colbert asked Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, “Don’t all those little tweets, don’t all those little sips of online communication, add up to one big gulp of real conversation?”
She recalls her response, “My answer was no, they don’t add up. Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information…, but they don’t really work for learning about each other, for really coming to know and understand each other. And we use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves. So a flight from conversation can really matter because it can compromise our capacity for self- reflection.”
Psychologist Matthias Mehl and his team found that the happiest person they engaged through their study of happiness and deep talk had twice as many substantive conversations – and one-third the amount of small talk – as the unhappiest person. Substantive conversations, they observed, help us find and create meaning and connect with other people.
If we want to understand ourselves and to know the people we live and work and share a zip code with, we need to stray from small talk scripts and find our way into meaningful conversations.
Why did you organize GROUP THINK? (GROUP THINK, not groupthink.)
In the fall of 2014, Brittany Sickler and I curated and organized a first GROUP THINK conversation. We worked to assemble a diverse group of friends and strangers to think and talk together about often unasked questions without any obligation to pitch or persuade, agree or acquiesce. We wanted to afford speakers, moderators and anyone who showed up the latitude to investigate themes with curiosity and creativity and to preempt groupthink – mandated consensus or “social or ideological conformity.”
This December, our volunteer planning team will host our 45th GROUP THINK conversation and conclude our sixth season. So many co-organizers, speakers, moderators, sponsors and conversationalists have generously and thoughtfully invested in this platform for public dialogue. We have congregated at The Stage at Island Park, in Stoker’s at the Hotel Donaldson, in the Sons of Norway’s Troll Lounge and other great spaces to explore themes like HOME, REGRET, WORK, SIGNIFICANT OTHERS, DEATH and GRATITUDE. We have listened to elders at Edgewood Vista reflect on the GOOD LIFE and talked about our experiences as KIDS with 10 middle and high school-aged facilitators from South Sudan Lutheran Church.
For each conversation, our GROUP THINK team works to coalesce an experientially-, generationally- and racially- diverse crowd and to create a climate in which differences and disagreements enrich instead of end an interaction. We want to confirm that everyone belongs at GROUP THINK – and in this community – not because we always all agree, but because we happen to share the same geography.
We hope conversationalists leave GROUP THINK feeling connected with people they might otherwise not have met or had a chance to talk with at a non-superficial level. And we hope they return to families and friends, neighbors and networks ready to instigate meaningful conversations.
How to host a conversation
Want to host your own conversation to complement or continue the GROUP THINK conversations organized by the GROUP THINK team? Fantastic! Check out this adapted version of our GROUP THINK hosting guide.
Invite two or seven or 14 or 50 people to join you to explore a theme. Set up a dinner and conversation at your favorite restaurant. Invite friends and their friends to your house for coffee or cocktails. Post an invitation on Facebook. Plan a conversation for or with a book club or your faith community or coworkers.
Take time to thoughtfully extend invitations and coalesce a group. Who you talk with matters as much or more than what you talk about.
2. INTRODUCTIONS + INSTIGATION
Prior to the conversation, think about why you wanted each person to join you, how you want to begin and how you hope people will feel when they leave. Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, notes, “The best gatherings create boundaries and a variety of permission slips. They get people to show parts of themselves to each other with fresh eyes, the same way a stranger would look at you. They create an ability for people to show themselves to each other and show themselves the parts that are still being baked.”
What do you want to offer your co-conversationalists at the beginning of your conversation? What do you want to invite them to reveal?
At each GROUP THINK conversation, our team sets out cards with Angeles Arrien’s Four-Fold Way on tables as an articulation of our common commitments and as an invitation to the room –
- Show up. Choose to be present.
- Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
- Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Truthfulness, authenticity and integrity develop vision and intuition.
- Be open, not attached, to outcomes. Wisdom is flexible and fluid. Trust and be comfortable with states of not knowing as a prelude to clarity, objectivity, discernment and detachment.
With each season, we have evolved the format and flow of GROUP THINK and worked to deepen our practice of inviting a representative mix of community members to join us for authentic, meaningful conversations. And we continue to show up and pay attention to each other, to be honest and ready for anything.
Thoughts? Questions? Email us at [email protected] groupthinkfargo.com.
Karis Thompson has lived in Fargo, since the fall of 2009. She co-founded GROUP THINK with Brittany Sickler in 2014, and curates and organizes GROUP THINK with Cali Anicha, Anita Bender, Amena Chaudhry, Netha Cloeter, Alexandre Cyusa, Dean Eggermont, Smita Garg, Jeff Holth, Veronica Michael, Pasteur Mudende, Barry Nelson, Aaron Templin and Laura Zeiher.