Make time to talk

Stephen Blyth, at Otago Access Radio studio“It used to be if I asked people how they’re doing, they would say they’re busy. Then they started saying “Oh, I’m busy, busy, busy”. And now they’re saying things like “I’m crazy busy” or “I’m insanely busy”, Margaret J Wheatley reflected when I talked with her last week.

The hyperbole will doubtless continue to inflate.

I experience this as having barely finished one thing before I’m racing on with the next. Distraction at the hands of this wonderful, but paradoxically attention grabbing technology, no doubt contributing to this. There rarely seem to be empty spaces.

There is definitely something missing as we blanket ourselves with this comforting illusion of busyness. When do we make time to scratch below the surface? To re-examine why we do things? For pondering about what really matters? To ask how come things ended as they are?

Margaret’s words ring true, if I really allow them to sink in. She says not only is thinking endangered, but working with others and generosity too. She very forthrightly describes our predicament at length in her recent book “So far from home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World”, and suggests we can find a way out.

One question that arises is how would things be different if we allowed more time for thinking and conversation?

I see a glimpse of what can happen when people stop to talk in a paper delivered by vivian hutchinson at the New Zealand Creativity Challenge held in New Plymouth last April (“What’s Broken is the We: some thoughts on creativity for the common good”, 2013).

The experienced community activist and social entrepreneur recounts how he invited two leading and long-time workers in community development in New Plymouth and Taranaki to talk:

“Let’s take all our various hats off for a while – some thoughts on creativity for the common good while … all the roles and labels that we carry around with us as we do our work. Let’s just have breakfast together as active citizens in this province that we love.”

Then I issued a deeper invitation: “Let’s tell each other the truth of what we are seeing right now … rather than what we tell our funders.” They both knew what I was talking about – because the growing gap between these two messages is in itself a significant problem in the sector right now.

Well, once we started talking, we found we couldn’t stop. We ended up having breakfast every fortnight for the next nine months. The conversations deepened our understanding of what we mean by community development and civic engagement. We asked ourselves some challenging questions about what sort of community sector we
handing on to the next generation.”

This conversation led to many others. Vivian found people “hungry for an authentic opportunity to stop and reflect. We spent four months at it, and established the beginnings of a learning community on how we as active citizens can do our work differently, and create real change.”

As I’ve found in the last week, conservation without the need to rush to conclusions is a wonderful thing. It is possible to find inspiration in the twists and turns of life.

When invited to revisit why I do the work I do by interviewer Sam Mann, I ended up heading off on some unexpected tangents. In the hour-long interview for the Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio program I talked about some of my motivations, shared learning from my community work over the last 25 years, and mulled on where using digital tools fits in.

This conversation was very invigorating, and would have been just as rewarding had it not been recorded. It’s just not something I would usually make time for amidst the day-to-day bustle.

Margaret J Wheatley is full of encouragement about the need to create time to be together in conversation: “I think a major act of leadership right now, call it a radical act, is to create the places and processes so people can actually learn together, using our experiences.”

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