I was asked by a friend to explain my conversation salons. I outlined to him their unstructured nature, freedom from agenda, the absence of a problem to which our focus was restricted, and our shared intention to communicate deeply, openly and with humanity. He then asked me how I knew these salon conversations were successful. Initially I began to mention the positive results of my post event surveys, but realized that these, and my explanation, tended towards a dispassionate measurement method. On reflection, I instead explained that there is a moment of congruence, when I cease to be a moderator, convener, or even a simple host, and in its place there arises a beautiful moment of alignment, an awareness of almost transcendent connection among us. There exists a purity of belonging.
Others have articulated this congruence or some variant in more compelling or comprehensive forms. M. Scott Peck describes a similar congruent state when categorizing True Community, his final stage of the community building process. The psychologist Carl Rogers said, “…a finely tuned understanding by another individual gives the recipient his personhood, his identity.” The philosopher Martin Buber suggested we perceive reality in the context of I – Thou and I – It attitudes. In the I – It form, individuals consider others around them as objects, to be used and experienced for the individual’s own self-centered purpose. In the I – Thou form, individuals encounter each other with openness and without an ulterior motive.
When my conversation salons cohere into a gestalt conversational entity, there is something of the sublime, characterized by a potent sense of belonging where participants encounter each other as authentic people. I wish I could say that it is usual for my conversation salon groups to experience this communal epiphany, but that would be an overstatement. More typically, though, and still delightfully unexpected and fulfilling, is the sense among the group that such an epiphany is in the air, and that palpable feeling of possibility is exhilarating.