Faith in the conversation

At the Baylor Academy for Teaching and Learning, the program I am learning to direct, our tag line is “shared inquiry and transformative conversations.” In at least one article I’ve been quoted as saying I have “faith in the conversation.” In this article the writer got an even better quote out of me:

“I’m a big believer that the conversation tells you the way the conversation ought to go,” Campbell says.

Now, I don’t rely on emergent phenomena alone. When folks at the leadership conferences say (loudly) “Fail to plan and plan to fail!” I nod vigorously in agreement. And I really mean it.

But that still leaves many skin-prickling moments when the tables rise and wonders appear and darned if I can detect the plan–unless giving oneself to the conversation constitutes a plan (as I believe it does).

Among many other things, OpenEd 2009 was a conversational feast with many remarkable instances of champion parley, but one conversation in particular gives me goosebumps just to think about it. It was intense, rich, complex, playful, wide-ranging, all the way from movies to Hobbes and Rousseau and many stops in between. What gives me goosebumps, though, is not just the memory of the caliber of the conversation, extraoardinary as it was, and as wonderful as my interlocuters were. (Here I raise my glass to Jon, Alan, and Jim.) What really gets me going is the way as soon as the lunch was over and the conversation had faded into the backdrop of city sounds in Vancouver, British Columbia, I suddenly had a rush of specific insights into how I should tweak the presentation I was to give about an hour later. Here’s the thing: the insights had no direct relation to the conversation whatsoever. Try as I might–and perhaps my lunch companions can do better–I cannot find any direct connection. I can’t believe I would have even mentioned my presentation, since getting butterflies in my stomach wouldn’t have been a very effective digestive aid.

No, I think I know what happened, and it maintains my faith in conversation, in its inner logics, in the way even what seems to be mere banter can, if one has the right partners in the conversation and if the spirit of the questions is urgent but not adversarial, release a torrent of inspiration to dissolve even the most stubborn blocks. Blocks one may not even have known were there. I had my presentation ready (or so I thought). Slides all done, thoughts all considered, everything in order. But something was missing, and I found it, and neither I nor my friends knew what we were seeking on my behalf. Nor do I know what we might have been seeking on everyone else’s behalf as well.

Perhaps what I’m groping for here is the sense that fellowship is not merely about comfort or solace or like-mindedness, though it may be all those things. For me, on this day and on many days, fellowship in conversation grants insight. So I believe.

Here’s the video of my talk, “No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable about Open Educational Experiences.” I thank my lunchtime companions for a gift they may not have known they were giving me: shared inquiry and transformative conversation.

Special thanks to Jim Groom for generously encouraging the Q&A during the time he was scheduled to speak–a gift I won’t soon forget.

3 thoughts on “Faith in the conversation

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