Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Listening Conversations: Where’s Love Beckoning You?

Nothing strengthens a community more than its members becoming more aware of and engaged with other members around what is truly important to them. Seeds of social change get planted when a group of people cultivate relationships based on sharing what really matters for them. 

And its a nourishing way of pursuing social change to cultivate relationships through face-to-face, 1-to-1 conversations. When we practice this unique form of conversation that makes use of open and honest questions, we create the kind of connections that increase our capacity to be of greater influence in the world.  We challenge ourselves to articulate who we really are--and we learn who in our midst has similar motivations and passions and hopes. 

It all begins with showing up to 1) listen and 2) share honestly in 1-to-1, face-to-face conversations. These conversations are a unique form of relating, for they aren’t about creating simply social connections or business connections. Instead they are about two people getting real about what is important to each of us, what motivates us, what is at the source of our hope. They are conversations that deepen our awareness to challenging questions like “If there’s one thing that you could have a real impact on, what would that be?” “What breaks your heart?” and “Where is love beckoning you?” 

These questions are intimate questions. They invite a level of intimacy that we don’t typically share with others, and it is precisely this intimacy that makes these conversations so revolutionary. And so these conversations can’t be had between people who are complete strangers. There needs to be some common bond, whether sharing the same congregation or sports league or neighborhood. And the conversation needs to be held with the clear expectation that neither person is there to convince the other of anything; but instead this is an opportunity for the two people to discover what the other person is about. 

To have this kind of conversation takes courage. So I like to call these “courageous conversations.” It takes courage to sit down with someone who is different than us, who we don’t know well, and show up as we we really are. When we have these kinds of conversations, we are strengthened, for we know what kind of people we are in connection with. Following a 1 on 1, you will hopefully know where that person stands, what is important to them, and when it would make sense to call upon them in the future.

So you start by calling someone up or asking them in person--don’t send an email--and ask, “I’d like to sit down with you for 30 to 40 minutes and learn what matters to you and why and will gladly share with you what I’m about. Lets meet at a neutral place--a cafe, a park, wherever would be convenient.” Explain that this is a relational conversation, and you can say, “This isn’t about trying to get you to think, buy, or do anything. It is simply an opportunity for the two of us to get to know what the other is about in the world or what we want to be about in the world.” 

So how would you react if someone offered you such an invitation? I would be flattered as well as nervous. It is an invitation to show up as you really are. And this isn’t easy. That’s why these conversations take practice, at least at first. It’s also why this listening campaign I’m launching is for the next 18 months! The first few months are simply practice conversations, getting the hang of them. 

Houses of worship are a great place to hold these relational networking conversations. I have launched a Where Is Love Beckoning You? Listening Campaign in my own congregation. I invited my folks to participate--to practice this unique form of face-to-face 1-to-1 conversation so that by the end of the summer a critical mass of us are having these conversations with people who we don’t yet know. And I hope that this will spread well beyond Unity Temple into Oak Park and then beyond Oak Park into Chicago and neighboring suburbs. The wider this spreads, the stronger we will be as an interconnected people.

Social change begins with a critical mass of people recognizing a whole new way of being in relationship with one another, where members truly listen and share with one another what matters, motivates, and sustains us. As relational networks get created, meaningful change becomes possible. But it begins with the simple, nourishing work of sitting down with one person after another for an intentional conversation where real listening and showing up happens. As such conversations spread, the fabric of community becomes strengthened and the possibility of strategic action for real change emerges. 

Thomas Merton shared with Asian monks a profound awareness of what is possible. 
He wrote: 
I stand among you as one who offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk. And among these people, if they are faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God, communication on the deepest level is possible. And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech and beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are. 

I see relational face-to-face 1-to-1 conversations as helping each of us become what we truly are. It takes some critical self-reflection to become aware of what really motivates oneself, what one is truly passionate about, and the source of one’s hope. Often it’s painful to get real about these things, because it means coming to terms with the depth of brokenness in the world and in ourselves. We don’t typically relate to others in this way. Yet, there is great power in sharing honestly. 

I have experienced just how challenging these conversations can be. When entered into with the right spirit, such conversations can open up whole new worlds, when suddenly we can see our own passion through the lens of another, and it becomes all the more evident where love is beckoning. Almost every 1-to-1 conversation, in my experience, generates joy and energy--for here is one more person that I know who is walking through this world, and I now know some of what motivates them and what they long for. This ultimately is not simply communication but communion.

So, here is my challenge to you. Over the next 18 months, I challenge you to engage the practice of face-to-face conversations, aiming for two a month. Each month, beginning March 8, I will host sessions where we will practice this art of conversation and learn from our experiences. And I will have a lot more to say about this kind of conversation!

Will you join me in the practice of entering into face-to-face 1-to-1 30-40 minute conversations? If so, email me at You are welcome to join our practice sessions at Unity Temple, the first one is on March 8 at 12:30pm. 

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