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Have any of you created an IRL current events discussion group?


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Since I have been spending far less time on this board, discussing and reading about topics (i.e., gun restrictions), I realize how much I want - need! - to discuss, to “think out loud†and talk with people who come with their different thoughts, experiences and opinions on matters. Yet, it’s hard to have much opportunity to do this on the whole, because most people don’t discuss such things in polite company. Also, a lot of people have weak discussion skills and the discussion goes nowhere useful.

 

I have been considering asking on FB if anyone local would like to be in a debate/discussion group with me, to meet IRL, perhaps once a month for example. I don’t actually know how the group would be conducted, but the object would be to collect a handful of people, who have decent rhetoric skills, and to somehow pick a topic and all people could give their views and discussions or ideas. In some cases, maybe this could lead to something like writing letters or attending activities related to the issue, but mostly my personal goal would be just to get that discussion that it only just dawned on me I require. ðŸ˜

 

In a sidebar: our dining room was very lively last night as DS18 was more or less a moderator, introducing gun regulation topics and DH and I, uh, fiercly presenting our views. ðŸ˜

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our dining room was very lively last night as DS18 was more or less a moderator, introducing gun regulation topics and DH and I, uh, fiercly presenting our views. ðŸ˜

 

I think the KEY in any IRL meeting would be having a moderator.  Just from leading different groups I have seen how easy it is for one or two strong personalities to take over the discussion or go off on tangents, etc.  I say go for it--with a firm plan!

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I’d love to do this if I had a group of real life friends who were willing and able to do this. It can be very difficult to get people together to talk about difficult topics where they disagree strongly. Certain personalities are a bigger problem than differing ideas, often.

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I didn't start one, but I'm in one.  There is a Church of Christ in a small city not too far (~40 minutes) from me, whose pastor is one of the most thoughtful and .... incisive... people I know.  He ran an interfaith book group for over twenty years; I joined in it maybe 7 or 8 years ago.  

 

For a very long time the group read sacred texts, associated legends and stories, research, and sociological-type books, focusing on one (usually rather heavy) book examining some facet of one world religion a month.

 

Dale runs a tight ship; the group meetings have always been open to all, but he keeps the dialogue hewing quite close to the text.  After 20 years, people know each other, know the norms: by all means COME if you haven't read the book, but come to listen not to talk.  When you talk, talk to the text, don't expound on your personal experience or opinion.

 

He chooses the books very, very wisely.  We make recommendations; he reads them ALL carefully and critically, he makes the selections.  (I have been comically pleased, the couple of times he's taken up my suggestions, lol.)

 

Three years ago he asked us -- but he's a leader, he leads, so it was a bit more directive than asking -- if we would be willing to take the group in a different direction, focusing on critical current topics facing the nation.  He said he was feeling an urgency. To use this community, of perspectives spanning faiths and races and generations (the oldest regular is 86; youngest early 20-something), to help him and one another to make sense of the fractures of our nation.  We concurred.  As one tends to do, when someone like him, makes a request.

 

Since we've transitioned to current affairs, we've plunged into mass incarceration, immigration, abortion, gun policy, health care, elder issues, political polarization.. we have opium coming up.  

 

It's still structured as a "book group" -- we still have a primary, and now, also, an optional secondary, text.  To which the discussion still stays fairly closely hewed... though I would say it maybe now veers a bit more off into response & counter response than it used to.  It helps, a lot, to have a core group of people who've been hashing stuff out for 20 years.  I also cannot convey the role that Dale himself plays.

 

 

______

 

 

It's a different dynamic, to start a wholly new group, than transitioning from an existing one to a different focus.  

 

It's possible, though.  Just start.  Invite people, put out coffee and soda and cookies, and give it a go.  I've been in several other engage-across-differences kinds of groups that HAVE started from scratch -- a couple that grew out of informal word-of-mouth associations, another most recently, a new chapter of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (a national umbrella which has a different and narrower focus than it sounds like you're thinking about).  Two Big Picture lessons learned that I've taken out of the starting-from-scratch experiences:

 

- There's a naturally occurring self selection process.  It's hard going, and when the going gets tough, some people depart.  The group that starts big and enthusiastic, winnows down.  Some people leave with a Big Dramatic Flounce, and others just stop showing up.  On the one hand that's disappointing, on the other hand what the group is left with, is people who are willing to hang in and keep trying, even though it's frustrating.  

 

- In groups that last, there is, ultimately, a shift from persuasion to understanding.  Unlike the first, this dynamic does NOT necessarily happen naturally.  People come in -- whether they mean it or not, whether they even themselves KNOW it or not -- very vested in bringing one another around to what each think is RIGHT.  It takes a while to get to a dynamic where people are willing even to sit-still-while-the-other-guy-is-TALKING.  Let alone actually hearing.  Yeah, but...  is the default dynamic that sinks many groups.  If the group isn't able to work past that default dynamic, it's unlikely to last.  A good moderator *can* help.  So too can guidelines for engagement and proposed early-meeting talking points from a larger umbrella organization (browse that SOSS link to see what I mean, even if the content you're thinking about is different).  I don't think a formal moderator is necessary -- I've had very good experiences without one.  But consciousness of the pitfalls of evangelism (using the word secularly, bringing folks around to my perspective) IS necessary.

 

 

Good luck.  It's worth trying.  Over and over and over.

 

 

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I think the KEY in any IRL meeting would be having a moderator.  Just from leading different groups I have seen how easy it is for one or two strong personalities to take over the discussion or go off on tangents, etc.  I say go for it--with a firm plan!

 

This is such an important factor to consider. 

 

My son participates in a twice-monthly literature class at a nearby co-op. The group would sometimes go off tangent and the teacher LOVED the dialogue and discussion, but it was taking away from the literature stuff. My son proposed that the group meet (optionally) a third time each month to continue the discussions that were distracting the literature class. For example, last month they read Purgatorio and discussed  the idea of purgatory, and then limbo, but then it went sideways to the OT God vs. NT God, and somehow over to England's political system vs. Hitler or some kind of six ways to crazy. Really good, meaty conversations but not what they were there for. 

 

11 of the 13 students came to the first meeting and there are about 8-10 at any given meeting. My son is one of three who dominate conversations. All three have strong personalities or come from large families where talking over each other loudly is part of life/survival. After a few meetings, I suggested that my son find an adult moderator. The literature teacher agreed. It worked much better because they all respected her and her neutrality, and I'm sure because she was an adult. I think that's key for a moderator - to be respected by both sides. 

 

It sounds like a fun idea. It reminds me a bit of the Socarates Cafe. It's a book, my library had it. I prefer online groups for this because stronger personalities aren't as likely to dominate and emotions are more easily checked (and facts or "facts" more quickly verified). The book may have recommendations for starting a group like the one you're thinking. It sounds fun and I wish you luck!

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Oh, there's another aspect of why I prefer discussing anything here - for a while now, I've been thinking that the type of women attracted to WTM are generally pretty smart. Maybe smarter than average? So even when there's passionate disagreement, it's rare that I would look at someone's post and just think - oh boy, you are not very bright. In fact, I never do that.

 

I also LOVE that there are plenty fo women here who are smarter by far than me, or who have cognitive skillsets I lack.

 

I think it would be hard to recreate those things in a group recruited IRL. Because RL - mine, at least - is more egalitarian. Which is great for RL. But not so good for discussions on current affairs.

 

Yep, I'm a discussion snob.

I agree with you on those points; it is certainly a reason why I have enjoyed discussion here so much. There are some extremely bright people who hang around here.

 

I don’t think I would have difficulty finding people with thoughtful, yet differing views IRL. I don’t know how far I would get just from direct recruitment of friends or people I know, but I think through friends-of-friends, or maybe something like a posting at the public library or college, might yield some ideal discussion participants.

 

One thing that I think bothers me, and part of the readon I have been more scarce around here recently, is that I feel like I have these two different personas, based upon whether people “know†me here or “know†me IRL. I’m extremely peaceable IRL; too peaceable, even, because I don’t want to upset anyone whose face I must keep seeing. So, I feel like people don’t really know me IRL until/unless we have been around one another for literally years and I trust the relationship enough to withstand some difference of opinion. (DH is the only person I may debate fiercly IRL.) But on-line, it’s no risk to a “real†relationship to disagree, even stridently. But all you all, much as I might like you, the great majority will not and cannot be a “real†friend to me.

 

In sum, I have IRL people who presumably think I’m nice and likeable, but who don’t know where I stand on much, if anything, because I have never risked those conversations and they haven’t either; and I have this on-line community that is really terrific for a well-informed and highly intelligent discussion, but whom I will (for 99.95% of you) never meet IRL.

 

I would love to have something like Pam in CT’s group. I am in a book club that does sometimes discuss important topics and we are healthily diverse, but book club is meant to discuss the books and is not meant to be a serious or lengthy discussion of the tangential issue raised. It’s kind of a taste of the sort of discussion I want to have, but since that is not the purpose, it doesn’t generally go very far that way.

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I agree with you on those points; it is certainly a reason why I have enjoyed discussion here so much. There are some extremely bright people who hang around here.

 

I don’t think I would have difficulty finding people with thoughtful, yet differing views IRL. I don’t know how far I would get just from direct recruitment of friends or people I know, but I think through friends-of-friends, or maybe something like a posting at the public library or college, might yield some ideal discussion participants.

 

One thing that I think bothers me, and part of the readon I have been more scarce around here recently, is that I feel like I have these two different personas, based upon whether people “know†me here or “know†me IRL. I’m extremely peaceable IRL; too peaceable, even, because I don’t want to upset anyone whose face I must keep seeing. So, I feel like people don’t really know me IRL until/unless we have been around one another for literally years and I trust the relationship enough to withstand some difference of opinion. (DH is the only person I may debate fiercly IRL.) But on-line, it’s no risk to a “real†relationship to disagree, even stridently. But all you all, much as I might like you, the great majority will not and cannot be a “real†friend to me.

 

In sum, I have IRL people who presumably think I’m nice and likeable, but who don’t know where I stand on much, if anything, because I have never risked those conversations and they haven’t either; and I have this on-line community that is really terrific for a well-informed and highly intelligent discussion, but whom I will (for 99.95% of you) never meet IRL.

 

I would love to have something like Pam in CT’s group. I am in a book club that does sometimes discuss important topics and we are healthily diverse, but book club is meant to discuss the books and is not meant to be a serious or lengthy discussion of the tangential issue raised. It’s kind of a taste of the sort of discussion I want to have, but since that is not the purpose, it doesn’t generally go very far that way.

 

 

re being "nice and likable" --

 

D.  Listen to me:  I don't know you IRL, but I have heard you long enough, on enough, to say: You are compassionate and generous-spirited and funny and wise.  All that is who you authentically are, all that springs from the well of your self.  All that is also consistent with where you stand. Where you stand are the ideas, whether long-vetted or still-in-progress, that have flowed forth from that well of your self.  "Nice and likable" is how others see you.  I'm not suggesting how others see you is completely immaterial; there is a place in this world for manners.  But how others see you is ultimately secondary to living your values and expressing your self authentically.  Give your IRL folks a try, show your hand.  Many of them will surprise you.  Some of them may dial back a little.  That's all right; just keep good manners (which I know you will) and you'll muddle through.

 

 

re connecting with a wider circle with people you don't know yet with whom self-revelation might, ironically, be easier--

 

If you have a college or university nearby, that might be a good venue to find people.  If there are conversations coalescing around a particular current issue group that's on your mind -- like there are Moms Demand Action groups stepping it up around safe & responsible gun policy at the moment -- you might start there.  But I also expect that a FB post with "feel free to bring an interested friend" would also work.  People are hungry to connect.  And that self-selecting dynamic is, ultimately, a positive one... which takes an interval of time that can't be hurried to unwind but which you really can trust to sift the wheat from the chaff, such that the "right" people who really are up to the task are the ones who end up staying in.  Engagement across difference requires holding a degree of discomfort.  People who don't have the stomach for that, disengage, one way or another.  That's okay.  It leaves the remainders, who ARE willing to hold that tension and keep working, despite it.  There are other tools, around language and mirroring and ricocheting between the personal and the abstract, all of which are learnable through facilitators or books or example or dumb perseverance, that sustaining groups muddle their way to get to; but really that willingness to hang in even when it feels yucky is much more important than anything else.

 

 

Women tend to be better at it, than men.  Once again I hasten to murmur soothingly #NotAllMen and all that, but on average.  Men mostly need moderators.  Women can generally manage without.

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My in-laws were in one for many years. They would meet once a month with several other couples for a potluck dinner and discussion around a pre-selected topic. The host would choose the topic and provide some suggested readings. They seemed to enjoy it very much. I don’t know how diverse the group was politically. I’ll have to ask my MIL the next time I see her.

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