Here & there: Meaningful gatherings

Croatia, upcoming vacation destination of Kat Dayton, date not specified | Stock image, St. George News

FEATURE — About this time two years I was getting my boys ready to go back to school – and getting myself ready to go to Croatia with a handful of girlfriends.

I was full of anticipation for them and for me; they were starting a new school year with all of the promise that holds and I was celebrating my 40th birthday with a trip of a lifetime.

When the mother-in-law of one of my travel companions heard about the trip she asked, “Croatia! What ever happened to just going to lunch for someone’s birthday?”

And she had a point. Croatia was a long way to go for a birthday. But more than a birthday celebration, the trip was a celebration of friendship. Deep, meaningful friendship four decades in the making.

Friendship that had seen it all: home births, heartaches, sudden death, marriage struggles, marriage fixes, misbehaving children, lean times, career promotions, profound disappointments, exquisite joys, victories, injuries, migraines, miscarriages and a hundred other things in between.

Friendship that made me feel seen and heard and strong.

And for that, Croatia didn’t seem so far to go.

Nor did it seem excessive to bike across town at 10 p.m. for chocolate cake, to skinny dip in the Adriatic sea at sunset, to hike the walls of Ston on a whim and off the recommendation of a stranger named Phee, or to yoga in the harbor at dawn with an audience of old men.

None of the above was planned. But what had been planned was the time together – away from the regular rigors of life – to enjoy our friendship and to have the space to be spontaneous.

I didn’t know it at the time, but we’d accidentally created what TED 2019 presenter Priya Parker calls a “meaningful gathering.” And it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Parker is a conflict resolution facilitator whose job it is to figure out how to get people to connect meaningfully, to take risks and to be changed by the experience. Usually high-powered people in high stakes positions.

At some point in her career, however, she realized that meaningful and transformative connection isn’t only necessary in the board room, but also around the kitchen table. And it’s desperately lacking around the latter.

Parker says gathering is an act of meaning making – if we let it.

But because we so often focus our social gatherings on the things (the cake, the candles, the clean house), instead of the people and because we haven’t been taught how to have a group conversation, we miss out.

In her TED talk, Parker suggests three steps to turn our everyday get-togethers into something more meaningful – into something transformative.

Step One: embrace a specific purpose [and then articulate it to everyone else]. Don’t assume the purpose of any gathering is obvious and don’t assume it’s inherent. Think about why you are gathering before you do it. What is the need you have in your life? Then, cultivate a guest list that encourages the fulfillment of it.

Step Two: cause good controversy. Parker says “human connection is threatened by unhealthy peace as much as unhealthy conflict.” When you avoid topics like sex, politics and religion, you’re avoiding the questions people really care about. And in doing so, it squeezes out the heat, the relevance and our interests, our identity and our values. Good controversy can help lead us into conversations that help us understand something better and/or help us make decisions.

Step three: create a temporary world with POP UP rules. Whenever we gather, we enter into a social contract of sorts. But we aren’t always operating off the same rulebook. And we don’t even know it. However, if we create temporary “pop up” rules for our gatherings, like whoever looks at their phone during a meal has to pick up the tab, we can harmonize our behavior and better connect, without having the same ideas about cell phone etiquette.

I mean, brilliant, right?

Now I can’t stop thinking about how to make all my gatherings more meaningful and transformative. More like Croatia.

And now I can’t stop thinking about how to help my boys do it, too. Especially as they start a new school year. Because what is school if not a series of gatherings? And heavens knows it should be as meaningful as it can be.

Although perhaps they should leave out the whole causing good controversy. For now.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!