Saturday, January 11, 2020

Is Adult Conversation Possible?

As Program Coordinator (a volunteer position, no compensation provided) for a non-profit offering interesting/educational/entertaining programs for seniors, I am always searching for new ideas.

A program came across my computer (as opposed to my desk, which was how I found out about things ages ago) called Socrates CafĂ©. Folks get together and talk in a civil, controlled, mature manner on a specific topic. Matters of discussion may be philosophical, societal, political...anything.

Participants do NOT debate. There are no winners or losers. I think the most important qualification for members is an open mind. 
True wisdom comes to each of us when
we realize how little we understand
about life, ourselves,
and the world around us. - Socrates

According to the Socrates Cafe website:

We don’t argue, we don’t debate, we don’t seek to persuade others...we explore, interrogate, investigate — and seek to persuade ourselves (that’s right, we focus on supporting our views via ‘self-persuasion,’ rather than patronizing proselytizing and sermonizing)...we become more connected to others — including if not especially those who look at the world quite differently than we do...

No one in my organization was familiar with the program, so attending a meeting was imperative before establishing our own. The Socrates Cafe website lists participating groups. I discovered a gathering a convenient drive away, held weekly at a local library. According to the website, most groups meet monthly. 

Ideally the group is diverse, but depending on the locale it doesn’t always work that way. I walked into a very homogenous group – white men and women of a certain age (a.k.a. senior citizens). The group met in the afternoon, so diversity age-wise can be difficult. I did not take a poll of participants’ ethnic and cultural heritage, economic circumstances and religious background. Not all were American-born – accents implied immigrants. Guesses could be made based on individuals’ comments, but that is unscientific and easily misleading.

The moderator e-mails participants a few days before each meeting with the topic to be discussed. Individuals research the subject, and many spoke from notes. 

The discussion did not produce the animosity and impassioned dialogue that current political conversation triggers. No one spoke ‘out of turn’. It was an adult, informed and informative 1½ hour exchange. The moderator kept folks focused, on topic, and within time constraints. Some speakers were interesting and engaging, others not so much. But that is strictly my opinion. 

It is heartening to realize that a group of people with varying viewpoints can gather and discuss a topic without name-calling, vitriol, door slamming or any other display of frustration and anger. But a successful group must include people with a high level of self-control and respect for others and their opinions, however mistaken one might believe those ideas and views may be.

It will take much guidance to instill in my constituency program guidelines - to restrain from emotional outbursts, to listen without interrupting, to not make faces or gestures, to act like a mature adult. I know my population –  they are impassioned, informed but often very opinionated and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view, while on the other hand quick to voice opinions on subjects they know nothing about, and they love to talk, and talk, and talk... 

It will be a daunting task.


  1. The church I belong to here in Florida runs a Socrates Cafe but I have never participated. It's been going for years so I would guess it is successful. It is a group of opinionated people who love to talk and talk and talk . . .

  2. Sound like a very interesting group, it can work, but the passions that some people exhibit might be a bit tough to rein in, especially on some of the more emotionally charged subjects that are presently going on around us. I will have to see if one is available in my area. I have been looking for something like this. Thanks for the link.

  3. Hi Meryl. I found you at Tom Sighting's blog and have added you to my blogroll. I agree with you that self-control is paramount during any kind of conversation.