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Dear friends,

I worked in group dialogue for years: often in dialogue to do with conflict and peace, but other times dialogue about identities, or religious differences, political differences, or contested beginning points for history. 

That field of work — often called Narrative Medicine these days — has a lot of models for how to hold group discussions. I tried plenty of models, learnt from them all, liked some more than others, and found that often a new model is a certain packaging of an old wisdom. 

Group processes are always a certain exercise in curiosity, in digging deeper, in looking at a singular thing — a single story, a single reason, a single purpose — and making them plural, even exploring some of the inner contradictions. Nothing is so simple as to be solely simple is an underlying premise when working with groups of people who have found themselves in need of facilitated discussion. 

One technique that I learnt was one that was attributed to a Japanese methodology. (An Irish colleague told me about learning this technique at a conference. She remembers being told it originated in Japan, but neither she nor I can trace any information about it; we’d be thrilled to hear from you if you know!) The way of discussing is simple. When someone says something of importance, ask the question why? five times; not as a cornering or an accusation, but as an exploration of some of the layers supporting what is important to them. 

Krista’s conversation with the Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is an exploration in the many layers of things beneath what might be taken to be singular or rational. He looks at rationality and recognises that in order for someone to operate entirely rationally would be impossible —  you’d have to know too much — because pure rationalism demands complete consistency, and none of us are. 

However, Daniel Kahneman is not interested in implying that humans are irrational, either. Instead he asserts that human behavior is an interplay between two systems of thinking: on the one hand a fast, intuitive almost automatic kind of behavior; and on the other hand a slower, more deliberative analytical mode. However, the second system — for all its deliberation — can be as flawed as something considered to be intuitive. Some of our most intuitive political beliefs are, he argues, profoundly rooted in personal history. So a political affiliation that I might make quickly, intuitively, with the gut of me, is something that’s been so ingrained in me that it’s as easy as 2+2 = 4 for me, built upon a pattern of selected and trusted narratives upon which I’ve placed authority. 

Daniel Kahneman proposes that an awareness of the ways that non-rational experiences, trust and affiliations can influence what might be seen as rational decision-making can help the world immeasurably: in economic analysis — an insight for which he won the Nobel Prize; in voting analysis; in organizational and family and civic life. He proposes that a culture of debate between diverse opinions is a necessary art, for saving us from intersecting — but mutually unintelligible — exchanges that are each so rooted in their intuition that the underlying narratives of each perspective remains a mystery to the other. And, perhaps controversially, he points to the fact that overconfidence might interrupt the practice of imagination. So he suggests practicing Thinking Again in order to develop the muscle of critical examination of what we think we’re seeing, and what’s underneath our opinions. 

What we hear from this tower of intellect in this episode is that he’s on a lifelong journey of learning, trying to change his mind, seeking to highlight his own errors, and paying attention to the process of opinion in the human condition. 

The two episodes of Poetry Unbound for this week also, in their own way, look at what it means to go deeper into a singular narrative. Jónína Kirton’s poem, ‘Reconciliation,’ considers how she had, for so long, thought that she’d have to choose between her Indigenous Métis and her Icelandic heritage. However, through study on the concept of living root bridges she began to imagine that her life could go deeper than the binary that was being offered her, and see the pluralities made possible in holding both rather than choosing. 

The poem “Eviction” from the Irish poet Eavan Boland is a journey back to a seminal point in the emergence of an Irish state from under the British Empire. Eavan Boland has uncovered a newspaper article about how her grandmother was almost evicted and considers how the history of Ireland’s rising to the light of nationhood needs to be interrupted by the story of such nation-making through the lens of Irish women’s experiences.

Friends, in all the endeavors to go deeper into the layers underneath your values, your opinions, your dearly held beliefs, your stories about yourself and your stories about others, we wish you the spark of electricity that is curiosity to guide you. And along with that, the wisdom of wisdom.

 

Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound

 

 


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This Week at The On Being Project


Our Latest Episode


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On Being with Krista Tippett
Daniel Kahneman
Why We Contradict Ourselves and Confound Each Other

The psychologist and Nobel laureate with a reality check that illuminates our present tangles: we all reach conclusions first, then find reasons.

Listen on:
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Living the Questions

Living the Questions

Tiffany Shlain
"We’ve been enmeshed with our technologies. Tech Shabbat for everyone?"

The elegant, 3000 year old idea of one day of rest. Asking what technology amplifies and what it amputates. Taking your brain “off-leash.”

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Poetry Unbound

Monday
Jónína Kirton
Reconciliation

Half of this poem is about feeling torn between two cultures. The other half heals the tear, seeing that a life can be a living bridge between the tensions of the poet’s identities.

Friday

Eavan Boland
Eviction

What stories get written into history? Eavan Boland examines the emergence of Irish independence alongside the repression of Irish women.

Listen on:
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Spotify
Our Website

 


Events


Imagine Social Healing: Conversations with Religious and Spiritual Leaders
May 12-27
Online Event

Wednesday, May 12
10 am PST / 12 pm CST / 1 pm EST / 5 pm GMT

Tuesday, May 18
7 am PST / 9 am CST / 10 am EST / 2 pm GMT

Thursday, May 27
2 pm PST / 4 pm CST / 5 pm EST / 9 pm GMT

During this pandemic year, religious and spiritual leaders have entered uncharted territory. That is why our social healing team is extending an invitation to these leaders from our community to join us for a nourishing and connecting conversation to explore the opportunities and challenges of this moment. Register for one of these offerings today. Space is limited. 

 

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Poetry Unbound Plus with Diane Glancy
Sunday, June 6
4-5:15 pm CST / 5-6:15 pm EST / 9-10:15 pm GMT
Online Event

“Poetry Unbound Plus” is a series of virtual gatherings in partnership with the Washington National Cathedral’s Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. The final gathering is with Diane Glancy on Sunday, June 6, 2021. 

Space is limited to create an intimate virtual gathering. To register, visit tix.cathedral.org and enter “OnBeing”(all one word) in the Special Access Code box below the general search bar, then click the “Add Code” button to access the event registration pages for each gathering. 

If you are unable to attend or register, recordings of all events - including our past “Poetry Unbound Plus” conversations with Lorna GoodisonMary Karr and David Kinloch - will be accessible on The On Being Project’s YouTube channel in the days following each live conversation.



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