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  • Sharon Gubbay Helfer

My "Hosted Conversation"at Wisdom 2.0

The round tables in the large space devoted to Hosted Conversations seat 8 people, possibly 10. Sixteen people showed up for the topic that I had proposed and that had been accepted prior to the Conference:

"How Can We Connect With People We Disagree Strongly With, While Remaining True To Ourselves?".

We only had 45 minutes for a conversation that could run for days, so I decided on a simple plan to begin with. 1) Start with a series of 5 slow centering breaths followed by the instruction to bring to mind something you are grateful for. This was intended as a transition, to bring everyone into presence and focus, especially as we were one of 12 round tables in a noisy room. 2) Give each person a turn of about 1.5 minutes to say how this topic comes up in their lives. 3) Since touching a common object was out of the question in the coronavirus context, conjure an imaginary "talking object" for people to pick up from the table when they were ready to speak, and put back afterwards. 4) By the time everyone had taken their turn, we had 15 minutes left for what turned out to be a wonderful open conversation.

The opening round was beautiful, eloquent, moving. Among the comments made:

  • A strong, stylish Latina woman talked about the trouble she had in having her views considered or even heard in the workplace. She speculated about a connection with her family and culture. Both as a girl among brothers and as a woman in a macho context, it had been taken for granted that her views were less important.

  • A woman who introduced herself as "Deer Clan" on one of her parents' sides talked of the working class, blue collar environment she was raised in, and how different her own views were from those of her community. She found this difficult to handle.

  • A young African American man from the South told about the special school he went to, where he was the only Black student. He was on the receiving end of a lot of racism, including many people telling him that the only reason he got into the school was due to affirmative action. As a kid, that hurt.

  • A young Asian woman expressed serious issues with speaking up.

  • A rather shy woman said that her natural tendency was to allow other people their space and their views, even when she disagreed. But then when she expected the others to give her equal time and respect, they did not. She found this very frustrating, even angering.

  • A young businessman talked about how always being right (something he had a tendency to be) could get in the way of fruitful relationships in his company.

  • A White Southern man talked about the challenges of being a Liberal in a very Conservative context.

  • A White Northern woman expressed her desire to begin to have the conversations around race that she had come to see as a priority, and her frustration in not knowing how to go about it.

Round two was surprising

At some point during Round One a participant had expressed discouragement at the political polarization and spiraling hate she was witnessing. I remarked that things seemed to have taken a wrong turn and that we wanted to be part of turning the ship around, in a more positive direction. The young African American said, "Respectfully, about the 'wrong turn', I would like to disagree completely!" His view was that the current situation has exposed the racism and deep inequalities that have always been present. Bringing all this out in the open is forcing us to confront these truths, and that is a good thing. The Latina woman agreed, calling it "Lifting the veil" ... Somehow the mood in the group was buoyed up by this turn in the conversation, which was taking place on the first morning of the conference. The Asian woman bubbled over with enthusiasm, saying that if nothing else happened for all of the rest of the time she would leave happy. How nice!

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