Saturday, April 21, 2007

Conversation Recap for April 8, 2007

Thanks again to Sid for taking notes!

We convened at 9:15, Happy Easter everyone.

Keith shared his story. The discussions that ensued touched on what parents give to us. We also continued with a topic from an earlier week, the way teachers are also role models. The role models have to come from someplace. There have always been cross-cutting issues here—one member told of a shift to integrated schools, a not so many years ago, when parents were afraid of what it might mean to send kids to these places where they were formerly not welcome. We didn’t so much reach clarity on the issue of the important of African-American kids having African-American teachers, but we approached some of the complications. And one story came up that pointed out the critical importance of having a high quality school available, a kid from a tough family situation has such a better chance, given that institutional support. Another important kind of institution was a place folks could meet, get to know some other peaceful souls, build some friendships. One thing that emerged is this special quality about Keith, the demeanor of peace. One sample quote: “Why wait until I’m a millionaire to help someone?”

Dick Mansfield was asked last week to do a presentation, and brought some handouts today. He began with the idea of the power of listening. There are ‘non-listening behaviors’ about which he prepared a handout.

The structure of the talk: He handed Dexter a list of questions, to serve as a device for bringing out these points. The overall purpose of this is to give a theory of the importance of listening, present a theory of “what humans are really like” that may aid us in listening. Some questions from the audience suggested that we did not all latch onto this approach to discourse. Consider it as a list of alternative assumptions about human interactions.
· First, a bit about the limits of human rationality. People don’t think well when they are hurting. Hurt can come from a lot of places.
· Perhaps we need to reconceive of human intelligence as creative, as being able to come up with new responses to situations. To be creatively flexible might mean coming up with just the right response for a given situation.
· He is not talking about suppressing symptoms of distress patterns.
· Inherent characteristics of humans include all humans have a natural feeling of love toward one another; that all humans are vastly intelligent in ways that have not yet used; that a joyful life is possible; that cooperation is a basic feature of interaction with others.
· Humans make repetitive mistakes, have miserable relationships, and so on, largely because we are hurt early and often in life.
· Some of these sources of damage are oppression, a contagion of the hurts of our parents.
· The early, natural intelligence of humans is shut down through hurts, and he guesses that it reduces our capabilities to a small fraction of what is possible.
· Humans can recover from hurt, it seems, by coming into contact with folks who are open to the possibilities of love—for example, what most of us feel when holding a newborn baby. The trembling of fear is another path to it, perhaps. Talking with others is a path to getting to the natural processes that seem to be built into humans.

Then the presentation shifted to “guidelines to being in a listening partnership.”
The nonlistening behavior handout suggested things to pay attention to while engaging with others. The list included giving a lot of directions on what the other should be doing during a conversation, making judgments about the other, insufficiently attending to the feelings of the other in the conversation, engaging in more laughing or other behaviors than the other, interrupting, and so on. Many of these add up to patiently listening to others, to trying to genuinely understand the other person on their own terms.

We were asked to break off into dyads and to practice some of the items above, starting with some questions he suggested.

We went through the discussion process he described to us, and as your note-taker was part of the groups in the listening exercise, there are not notes from it. I will ask Dick to send the handouts from today’s session, and include them in the notes below.

Among announcements, one report was from the UPS Race Reading Group. One format they have used, that might be brought to The Conversation, is to discuss whiteness, and what it means to be white. In order to have that conversation they divided into groups that are conventionally labeled white or nonwhite, went into different rooms for the discussion, and then reconvened to see what each had come up with. They also did the same discussion technique on what it means to be a man and a woman in the USA. Their next (and last) meeting is April 19 @ 7 pm, upstairs in the UPS Student Union building. We were reminded that Tim Wise speaks and writes on white privilege, and Dick has made a DVD available on one of his presentations.

Christy treated us to a very powerful song.

Notes submitted, respectfully, by Sid Olufs.