So, two final Meeting Point sessions to finish off this three-day run. The goal was to experiment with dialogue, and relationship, in communal spaces, open to all people. Today, the first 90 minute session ran on the south bank of The River Thames in central London, next to Waterloo Bridge. The circle of chairs set-up, it was then a chance to enjoy the subtle summer sunshine with a coffee and croissant, and to wait and see what happened.
A family who had been sitting on a nearby bench for ten minutes worked up the courage to come and say hello. A mum and dad with two young children, on holiday from New Jersey in the U.S. We talked about London, New York, the different characters of their children. I enjoyed the conversation and felt a natural warmth towards them as they talked with love and a lot of considered thought about how they were supporting their children to grow and learn. After the family headed off with handshakes and smiles, a lady stopped by for a chat. Julie explained that she enjoyed the opportunity for an adult-to-adult conversation during a weekend sightseeing with her two teenage children. It seems that these people take a chance to come and talk to “a stranger”, overcoming perhaps any internalised messages and expectations concerning how they may be seen, or what may happen.
In this way, Meeting Point both challenges convention, and shines a light on the seemingly random contacts we do make with people in the world around us. Go-dialogue aims to innovate and develop our relational capacities; in doing so there is no wish to compartmentalise our current experience, however there are themes within contemporary relationship building that are always evolving.
Last night watching the British athlete Mo Farah conduct a lap of honour after his final race on the track, the first and last reaction of those in the crowd seemed to be to take a selfie with Mo. Often, as soon as the photo was taken the taker immediately referred to the phone to look at the photo. The athlete, the person, in his hour of need perhaps, discarded somehow, in the way of a commodity. Watching what could have been a celebration left me feeling quite uncomfortable. What is the quality of the contact being made? Do we really see and meet the other? Do we allow ourselves to take the experience in?
Back at Meeting Point, the chairs are packed up and I head to Clapham Common for the final session at 2.00pm. As I walk onto the common, I notice the circles of people having picnics and chatting, and think that there already seems to be plenty of community knocking around here. One of the learning points from the experiment over these last few days is to consider further the focus of the activities (Meeting Points) I’m running.
It’s a sunny day and I risk the afternoon toilet activity of the pigeons (see previous post!) by setting up the chairs under a tree. Passers-by look at the sign inviting them to sit down, one or two comment from the path running by the Meeting Point, and there is an exchange of smiles and hellos. Mark, having walked by, comes back for a chat. We talk about community, contact, and the challenges of living in a world of change. Two friends of mine arrive and join us and bring their own lovely brand of energy and insight to the conversation.
The clock ticks by and it’s time to pack-up and take the learning from these past three days back into go-dialogue’s mediation, training, and relationship building work. The agenda to innovate in the field of dialogue and relationship is strengthened by these experiences. The desire to share knowledge, expertise and practice with others and, in particular, to develop the programme further is emboldened. To manage conflict, to foster personal growth, to support parties in dispute, to create the conditions for authentic contact, we have to be prepared to step outside our comfort zones and reflect deeply on our responsibility as individuals to connect, and as a community foster the support for such risk taking.