Necessity mothers invention and inspires even old dogs to learn new tricks. Meeting on Wednesday nights for 32 year indoors, my Men’s Group switched to Friday mornings outdoors. Why?
1) Ongoing Covid-fear combined with Zoom fatigue got us out of our houses.
2) Since we’re all retired, why not take advantage of more flexibility in schedule?
3) Since we’re all in our 70’s and olders, there was some evening nodding off beginning to happen. Why not get together when we’re fresher?
And so we did, meeting at Crane Flat at 10 am, played a brief game and had a brief talk sitting at picnic tables and then off we went walking to explore the neighborhood while checking in with rotating partners. Such a refreshing change from talking heads on screens or blah-blah-blah sitting in chairs! So much more engaging and vibrant and interesting and fun. As someone obsessed with community and human relations, I reflected on four principles that can apply to any social gathering, things we all do intuitively but are worth considering more consciously for occasions like staff meetings, birthday parties or family gatherings.
1) Play: Before we went in to the topic proposed, I taught the group the card game Pit and we had a hilarious four rounds. The laughter, the playfulness, the friendly competition opened the pores of the body, mind and heart. Later, we found a public cornhole game and played a couple of rounds before moving on. Plato (perhaps) famously said, “You can learn more about a person in one hour of play than in one year of conversation.” Yep.
2) Get outside: Poet Walt Whitman once sang, “Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air… “ and indeed, we change when we’re out in conversation with the elements, be they the waters or trees or animal life of the country or the vibrant hum of city neighborhoods. The outdoors brings a third element into the conversation, the sense that you and your fellow folks are not just talking about what happened to them last week and sharing their interior feelings, but here together in the moment pausing to remark on the seal who just popped his head out of the water or stopping to get a bite to eat at the food truck.
3) Get moving: We still carry the bodies of our ancestors from 10,000 years ago, who walked some 12 miles a day getting food and such. Talking and walking is a different dynamic than just sitting and by the end of our meeting, we not only had the pleasure of re-connecting with each other, but had logged some four miles in our bodies always craving exercise.
4) Side by Side: While I’m a big fan of the circle and enjoy sitting across a table from a friend, something else can emerge when walking side by side. Especially for men. Again, it’s helpful to acknowledge the ancient histories lodged in our bodies and psyches. Whereas women often sat in circles preparing food, making baskets, sewing or quilting, meeting around the table at the coffee klatch, men were out hunting with one or two fellow hunters by their side, chopping wood, planting crops, fixing cars, sitting next to each other on barstools. We can mark men’s reluctance to engage face-to-face as a design flaw or just part of how we’re put together and acknowledge that for us, the occasional grunt or surprising pithy confession while looking straight ahead is simply the way we reveal ourselves. Yes, we can learn to also expand our repertoire with the sincere circle sharing, but the side-by-side method seems to be a default setting and why not pay attention to it? Moving outdoors side-by-side with one person at a time gave a whole other dimension to the ritual check-in. It worked.
Yesterday, I went to a birthday party and it had all those elements. We met at a beach, walked side-by-side, played frisbee and jumped into the ocean. Nothing shocking for a party, but what if staff meetings, be they at a school or office, consciously worked in these connective principles? After all, community is a verb and needs this kind of active engagement. Being outside for at least part of the time, walking together, working together (checking in on a topic while gardening or cooking), playing together, changes everything.
Some meetings these days start with a "getting to know you" activity and then discuss the topic at hand. But what I'm suggesting here is discussing the topic for while doing some of these things. And yes, part of the meeting can be sitting indoors (note: a circle is better than one-way facing a powerpoint) but preferably at the end of these other ways of examining the topic together.
Imagine a teacher saying, “So happy it’s Tuesday! Can’t wait for the staff meeting!” Try it!