55,000 People Have a Conversation

June 10, 2016

Originally published in Coffee Party USA

Debilyn Molineaux, Coffee Party USA

To be precise, there were over 3500 conversations, involving 55,000 people.  All on one day, in and around Chicago.  Wow.

I was an invited guest…along with another 60 or so people from around the country.  Our mission?  To witness the event and learn how it was done. It got me thinking…what if the entire country could be invited to have a conversation about what matters most to them?  

Pop Quiz!  

What is a conversation?

  1. Two people speaking at the same time
  2. People talking while another person is present, but not really listening
  3. Preparing to respond before the other person finishes speaking
  4. Arguing, even if no one is shouting
  5. All of the above
  6. None of the above

I prefer to think of conversations as mini-dialogs. One person speaks at a time.  Other people listen (and I mean really hear them), and the conversation adds to each person’s understanding of each other, a situation, a belief, etc.  From Wikipedia: Conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people. Typically, it occurs in spoken communication.

With our busy lives today, we are less likely to have spontaneous conversations with people. So where have all the conversations gone?  (I suspect we now spend time online, but that’s not really a conversation.)  What was great about On the Table is the creation of a shared experience. 55,000 people took time to have a conversation with each other, about topics they care about in and around Chicago.  It’s time we did this as a country.

Here’s my dream* (and nascent plan):

  • Coordinate with organizations and people around the country who will HOST one or more conversations.
  • Invite the media to host their own conversations, with their readers/audiences and report on them.
  • Offer online and phone support for hosts to customize each event.  An online toolkit is a given.
  • Partner with one or more research universities and firms to gather what was talked about, who talked and look for patterns.
  • Offer awards for good ideas that need a little money to get off the ground. (Not every idea costs money, but sometimes it helps.)

Are you in?  What topics do you care most about?  Safe Communities? Taxes?  Healthcare?  Personal and/or National Debt?  Education?  

Whatever you care most about, wouldn’t it be great to dedicate at least one day each year (more is better),  to gather with friends, neighbors and family…or even complete strangers, to take a deep dive into that topic?  And if we did, how would our country improve?  This is where I get excited.

So much of our disconnect, our “living in different narratives” is a direct result of neglected or absent relationships. We the People can do something.

When we wake up on November 9, 2016, at least half of our country will feel like they “lost” the Presidential election. Some will breathe a sigh of relief that they didn’t lose more, but are less than satisfied.  And a few will feel like they “won.”  

Instead of crying, being depressed or gloating the day after the election, what if we started planning to all host our friends for National Conversation Day?  Say on February 2nd?  Yes, this is Groundhog Day.  And like the Bill Murray movie of the same name, we can change what we do, every day, until we get it right.** We can restore our communities and our country through our own relationships.  

*The Chicago Community Trust shared their plans for On the Table, and it looks a lot like this. OK, I stole it. With permission. 😉

**Idea adopted from John Oliver’s rant on May 22, 2016