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This proposal is made with the hope that the group described below (or some variation of it) will be able to meet at the Friendsí Meeting of Washington. This proposal was written for the consideration of the Spiritual Friendships Committe members on 10/28/98, and others.

Introduction

Different ways of being with others will be helpful to different people at different times. What follows is a description of how a group of four or more people might organize themselves when meeting. It is hoped that this way of meeting will appeal to all people at least one day a month. Possibly this document could both be used as a constitution of sorts for the group, to be revised many times, and also be given to any newcomer to the group if she wants to read about the group before joining in.

This group is better understood by the structure of its meetings than by any particular content or goal.

Overview of the structure of the meeting:

For the first half or more of the meeting, participants will spend time talking with one, or possibly two other participants at the meeting. When the meeting is about halfway over, each participant will be given the opportunity to address the whole group, in whatever way, about any subject she would like; it is her five minutes to lead the meeting, to the extent that the others will cooperate with her. After everyone who wants to has addressed the entire group, participants will either leave or start new discussions with those people they feel moved to start discussions with.

 

To help frame what is being proposed:

Once a month or more often,

 

Detailed plan for the meeting

(Details are given only as a starting point for debate)
  1. The group will meet on the last Thursday of each month that is not an official U.S. holiday. The group could meet more often if there is sufficient interest in having these types of meetings more often.
  2. The meeting room will be needed from 7:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. on that day.
  3. 7:00 - 7:30 will be the time for people to arrive for the meeting. Everyone is encouraged to be there by 7:30.
  4. When an individual arrives at the meeting room, she will look for (a) a single person, (b) a group of three people, or (c) a group of two people which should make themselves known to the arriving individual as the most recently formed small group that night.
  5. The arriving individual will then form a new small discussion group with (a) the single person, (b) the most recently arrived member of the group of three, or (c) the aforementioned group of two.
  6. New arrivals will continue to integrate themselves into the larger group in the way described above, as long as people continue to arrive, unless it is after 8:00.
  7. At 8:00 a volunteer (volunteer 1) will let everyone know it is 8:00 and everyone will stop her small group discussion/interaction.
  8. Then each person in the group, beginning with she who arrived first and ending with she who came last, will have the opportunity to address the whole group or lead the group in some activity. Participants might tell everyone about what they were just doing in their small groups, what questions/issues/ideas they have been working on recently, or whatever else they might want to say. Participants could present artworks, songs, drama, or other creations or lead the group in some sort of meditation. No one has to speak if she does not want to, but it will be best if everyone shares something or tries to think of some interesting activity/experiment for the group to do in her short time. This is a sort of an experiential show-and-tell or a research opportunity in which any imaginable use of the time and the groupís participants is possible. Participants are limited only by the willingness of the others to cooperate with their proposals. That being said, it is important to realize that radical performance artists are not ubiquitous, so donít expect anything too disturbing or mind-sending to happen at these meetings unless you plan to make it happen.
  9. The time each person will be given to speak/lead will range from ((1 hour to 40 minutes) divided by the number of people at the meeting that evening). The goal will be to use only the time from 8:05 to 8:45 for this part of the meeting. If an hour is used in the formula above, it will be because it is assumed that not everyone will want to use all of her time. The times here will have to be played by ear. The first part of meeting may need to be shortened or it might be necessary to split the meeting into two groups to allow more time for each participant to address/lead the group.
  10. A volunteer (volunteer 2) will keep track of each participantís time, letting her know non-verbally when she has 30 seconds left and when her time is up. If the speaker/leader wants more notification of the time she has left (i.e. 2 minutes, 1 minute), or verbal notification, she can ask the volunteer to do that.
  11. After everyone who wants to has spoken/led, a volunteer (volunteer 3) will make announcements pertaining to the group that need to made, if any. In the remaining time before 9:00 (10-15 minutes, with hope) everyone will be free to leave, or to speak more with whomeverís brief presentation interested her the most. The meeting will be over at 9:00, and people can start taking their discussions (if theyíre still going) outside by then. The room will be straightened up and emptied of people (if this is necessary) by 9:15.
  12. Other volunteers will be necessary, or more duties will need to be accepted by some volunteers, to take responsibility for arranging a meeting space for the group, opening the meeting space/setting it up, closing the meeting space, advertising the group, updating the groupís document(s), and other activities as the groupís members determine.
  13. Because this meeting will only occur once a month, unless there is demand that it happen more often, people are encouraged to arrange their own (probably smaller) meetings during the in-between times.

Provisions for change

  1. All of the proposals above for the meeting are subject to revision.
  2. Revi{ions to the above procedure will be suggested by participants when it is their turn to speak. After everyone has spoken, a volunteer (volunteer 4) will ask if there have been any points of view on the proposed revision that have not been heard. When there are no objections to the proposal, it will be accepted, and the change in procedure will occur at the following monthís meeting (or whenever determined in the proposal). Debate of the proposal will end at 9:00. If there are objections remaining, the proposal will not be accepted, and the remaining objections will be heard at next monthís meeting.
  3. Whenever the volunteers want a break from their jobs, they should mention it during their turn to speak. Either a new volunteer will present themselves during their own turn to speak or a volunteer (volunteer 5) will ask after everyone has spoken if there are any volunteers.
  4. Likewise if anyone wants to be a volunteer, she should mention it during her turn to speak, and if the position is currently filled or if there is more than one volunteer for the position, the participantís proposal or (participantsí proposals) will be addressed at the end of the meeting as in (15).

Other

  1. An email list and a web page might be set up to help the group organize itself.
  2. If this way of meeting works well, it is hoped that more people will start meeting this way in diverse other locations or times. Possible places to advertise for more members:

Etc.

  1. Some activities group participants might want to start:

Etc.

A history of the idea

A group, similar in some ways to the one proposed here, was started in Seattle by University of Washington students Colin Leath and Gordon Hogenson. A key difference between the Seattle group and this as yet imaginary group is size. From 8/28/96 - 10/25/98 this group had a stable attendance of only four participants at most.

Colin was the primary organizer of the group. He was motivated to start the group by his loneliness for people with whom he could work on life questions. Colin had noticed that all student groups at the University of Washington seemed to meet for a purpose, to accomplish something, or they organized themselves around a particular theme, like ethnicity or academic discipline. What he wanted instead was a group that was all-inclusive, made no assumptions (or as few as possible) about what was good or right, and had no stated purpose. The only purposes the group would have would be those the groupís members brought to it. Or perhaps the groupís purpose could be for its members to enjoy being together for the sake of being together. Colin started the group by posting flyers around campus which said, "What is being? What is loving? What is the best of life? discuss, experience" and listed a meeting time. Gordon was the first and only person to respond until later advertising efforts.

The group later became a registered student organization called the being group which listed the following as its purpose:

The purpose of this group is to discuss and create experience.

A secondary purpose of this group is to increase the amount of time people enjoy being alive. It is believed this can be accomplished by encouraging individuals to actively and openly question what is the best way to live.

After some time, Colin became motivated to figure out how, and if, the group could grow biggeróhe wanted to meet more people in a being-group type environment. Colinís problem was that (1) he did not like forever explaining the group to newcomers (who often did not keep coming), and (2) he only really liked talking to and being with one person at a time, not three or four. In his opinion, there were few environments more responsive or potentially rewarding than a being meeting consisting of only one other person. Larger group discussions are prone to domination by a particular person or idea and more patient or quiet individuals have less control over the content and atmosphere of the meeting than they would in a dyad.

In an attempt to address these issues and also the discomfort of many visitors with the being meetingsí lack of structure and content, Colin started another more widely advertised group, The Meaning in Life Forum.

The first meeting of the Meaning in Life Forum was attended by 8 people. That meeting, a format similar to the one proposed above was followed. That structure seemed to work well from Colinís perspective. However, attendance dropped to 6 after the first meeting, and when asked to evaluate the structure of the first meeting, the participants said they would rather have large group discussion for the whole meeting than both large group discussion and person-to-person conversation. Admittedly this decision was not given serious or prolonged contemplation, nor has it yet been followed up by asking the participants to re-evaluate the original proposal for the structure of the Meaning in Life Forum meetings. From then on the meetings were group discussions, with occasional rounds of each person taking a turn answering the same question, e.g., "what are things you have found meaningful in the past?" Attendance kept dropping and eventually stabilized at three participants, in addition to Colin.

Somewhat disillusioned about the prospects of growing the being group (in a way he would like) after this, Colin was happy to find an unprogrammed Quaker meeting (University Friends meeting). He attended the meeting only once, but it seemed to him that the Quakers may have found the only way of meeting with large numbers of people (>3) that was consistent (in outward appearance) with the values implicit in the being group. However an unprogrammed Quaker meeting does not have the emphasis on person-to-person interaction that a two- or three-person being-type group does.

Another possibility for growing the being group was to have some sort of monthly meeting at which people who were attracted to the idea of the being group could meet each other and arrange their own smaller, more frequent meetings. This appears to be similar to what is done in the Friends' Meeting of Washingtonís Spiritual Friendship program.

Concluding comments

So it may be that the only long-lasting way to structure a meeting of a large group of people that encourages questioning and appreciation, without emphasizing one personís message or content over anotherís beforehand is the unprogrammed Quaker meeting. In case that is not so, the group proposed here will be another attempt, after the Meaning in Life Forum, to see if the group structure described above can work with large numbers of people. It may be that the meetings will start as proposed and then evolve into an entirely different structure, but, either way, maybe it will work (i.e., provide emotional experience that is rewarding enough that at least some of those who participate will want to keep coming). Also, perhaps simpler ways to meet the needs which brought forth this proposal can be found.

Spirituality is not directly addressed in this proposal. That is because the author believes, perhaps naively and over-idealistically, that only that which might be considered good will come to exist in an environment which encourages (1) active and open questioning (when the need for questioning is felt) and (2) appreciation/love of others and oneís own experience of being.

The most relevant question of all is, "Is this something you think you or anyone else might want to do?" and, if not, can you think of something that addresses the needs which brought forth this proposal that you or someone might want to do? Perhaps the easiest way to evaluate this proposal would be to post it (and announce the posting of this proposal) at Friendsí Meeting of Washington, and see if there is anyone else who wants to try this out.

Thank you for considering this proposal. Please contact me to talk about it further, to make suggestions about how it could be improved, or to express your interest.

Colin Leath


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