Can We Talk?

Our policy choices flow from our politics, our politics flow
from our values, and our values flow from our personal stories. If
we’re going to create a new politics in America and the world, we
need to start at the level of story. We need to talk to each other
— and to ‘the other,’ the one we think is dead wrong. It’s risky,
but good hosts make such conversations so safe that people stumble
past their fears into a kind of grace. Hosting conversations is not
just inviting people over and putting out cookies. It’s deeper —
actually, something like meditation.

But while meditation strives for one-pointedness, hosting goes
for three-pointedness: It’s focused on each speaker, the host’s own
responses, and the entire conversation. Meditation is private and
quiet. Hosting is public and noisy. Meditation is cool. Hosting is
hot. Rather than escaping ‘the world,’ hosting works with the rough
grain of the world, creating coherence in our multitasking
21st-century minds.

A host gathers people to make meaning together, setting the
stage with a welcoming spirit, a few ground rules for safe
speaking, and a juicy topic (see
A host is free to listen like a lover and speak like a sage. A host
can act like a fool and ask the unaskable, like ‘We all agree, but
what if we’re wrong? What if the opposite were true?’ A host
wonders. As in awe. As in ‘it’s a wonderful life.’

The first mind of hosting is listening to what each person says
with absolute attention and utter fascination. It’s like wading
into the worldview and life experience of another without any need
to change them. If a host wants to dive deeper, she’s free to say
‘Tell me more about that’ or ‘How did you come to that point of
view?’ Mind you, she’s not facilitating or helping. She’s
contemplating a work of art called a human being.

The second mind of hosting is listening with attention and
fascination to one’s own thoughts as they arise while others are
speaking. As with solo meditation, this empty attention lets you
really look within. You see your foibles — your dysfunctional
family of warring selves with their conflicting needs. Your
‘tolerant self’ gets shouted down by your ‘righteous self.’ Your
open mind shuts when your tribal mind worries what your clan would
think if you dared agree with ‘them.’ At the same time, you
discover your higher mind — finding answers to questions you
didn’t know you’d asked, feasting on insights arising from depths
you rarely plumb. Your heart opens and you fall into a space that
feels like love.

The third mind of hosting is attuning not to self or other, but
to the meanings that begin to arise from the rich, bubbling stew of
interactions. You sense that something is trying to be said through
this word-and-thought jazz — this riffing and harmonizing, calling
and responding. You now speak not to assert yourself but to stir
this communal pot, bringing attention to how ideas mate and give
birth to insights, adding a dash of heart when it’s too heady or a
dash of reason when tempers flare.

Master hosts have all three minds active at once. These three
points of simultaneous awareness stretch open a space into which
timelessness enters the busy world. When the conversation ends, in
60 to 90 minutes, people shrink back into their separate selves. As
if a church service has ended, they leave renewed, restored, and
reinvigorated for the bumpy journey of modern life. By hosting, you
have helped create sacred space — space that is both safe and
dangerously alive — in public space.

Vicki Robin, co-author of the bestselling book Your
Money or Your Life, is a co-founder of Let’s Talk

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