Meeting Point – reflecting on dialogue in public spaces

Nick AdlingtonBlog

Meeting Point is a go-dialogue programme aimed at building relationship and capacity for relationship, through dialogue. The first Meeting Points were delivered last week, six sessions across three days in locations around London; set-up as a circle of chairs in a public place with an invitation for people to sit down and take part in discussion with a host from go-dialogue.

The programme has been at the ideas stage for a few years now. With this in mind, the main goal was to deliver a run of sessions and see what learning emerged from them.

For those who came to sit and talk there was the opportunity for contact, and to engage in discussion on whatever topic arose in that moment. People were open and generous with their time. I would say participants in the groups found the experience an enlivening one. There was plenty of conversation on a variety of topics, with people bringing a wide range of interests to the Meeting Point. Visitors from Iran, USA, Moldova came and got involved in discussion, and folk from around the UK, some in London for a few days during the summer holiday.

As stated, the longer-term goal of Meeting Point is to build capacity for relationship and skills in dialogue. In mediations and in counselling we are often dealing with problems that people are encountering in relationship. Yet in the structures of day-to-day civil society, how often do we create the conditions for people to come together and proactively focus on and develop the inter-personal skills that lie at the heart of a healthy community?

The audience for Meeting Point was the public who passed by. I observed many people walk by, read the sign, and look over with what I imagined was a certain nervousness. I reflected on the unusualness of the space created by the Meeting Point and the invitation to “sit, be part of it, and contribute how you wish”. It was perhaps a metaphorical long way to walk from reading the sign, to taking the plunge and sitting down in dialogue, especially in a large city and the associated field conditions that mitigate against a certain public intimacy.

One answer to this issue is to run the Meeting Point in the same place at the same time over a number of weeks or months, and see if a trust develops whereby people will repeatedly notice and then attend.

Another possibility is to make the Meeting Points more subject focussed, be explicit about a topic that is being discussed; draw people in through their interest in the subject under discussion. Yet there is something about the unpredictability and spontaneity of a more open, free form group, that supports people to meet as they are and really focus and reflect on the relationships that emerge between members. Introducing a subject or topic in itself can create a deflection at the heart of the group that diverts energies away from the critical issues of relationship building.

The aim of Meeting Point is to create the ground for authenticity in contact between human beings. Sometimes the most intractable conflicts are based on thoughts and feelings that have gone unexpressed. The question then is, how can a programme such as this enable people to become both more aware of such retroflected thoughts and feelings, and support people to develop the skills to safely express them?

Trust is key to relationship building, and one of the learning points from last week is that it will take time for people to develop trust in Meeting Point as a safe space to experiment with and develop relational capacities. Equally, it will take time for people to find out what they can bring and what they can learn from sitting with others in the moment in dialogue.

A friend and colleague referred to go-dialogue’s Meeting Point as a jam session without the musical instruments. I’ll be honest, my jam sessions have been limited to playing the recorder with my classmates at school! However, it’s a lovely analogy of what I imagine a Meeting Point space could be – a place of experimentation, growth, evolution, and creativity, where everyone comes away a little wiser and a little more confident about coming into contact with their fellow human beings.

At go-dialogue, we are passionate about resolving the conflicts that divide the heart of our communities, and passionate about supporting people to be the architects of their own learning and growing. We envision Meeting Point as a global venture that supports and develops people’s relational capabilities. We would welcome hearing from anyone interested in partnership and collaboration, and anyone who wishes to comment or feedback on the Meeting Point programme.

If you’d like to be involved in running a Meeting Point, contribute towards the costs, support the logistics, or help in any other way, then please do get in touch. You'll find more information here...