AND Pay Attention to the Context

February 25th, 2018

I recently attended an international conference on the changing state of the world today and the potential leadership role of the United States in the future. Held in one location and simultaneously broadcast in three other locations, the conference offered speakers who presented different perspectives and offered different projections for tomorrow’s world order.

There were European and American presenters, academics, policy leaders, journalists, and former government officials. The audience in at least two locations was high school and college students, as well as the mostly over sixty crowd.

The format allowed for many questions, offering differing perspectives and giving insights into the different backgrounds and interests of those present. Wherever we sat or found ourselves between speakers and on breaks, the participants engaged in natural conversations emanating from the points covered by the speakers.

The tone was pleasant, open, and engaged. The conversations were, above all, civil and respectful of different opinions, acknowledging differences without making them personal. Curiosity and sharing points of view set the tone for a positive experience and ease of connection. What allowed different people, with different perspectives, different levels of understanding of the issues, different levels of education and backgrounds, and different ages to have such productive conversations was the context.

People who came to the conference wanted to learn. No action or decisions were expected or required. We were there to learn, engage, and share. Respect for the expertise of those speaking was mutual: the guest speakers towards the participants’ questions and the participants towards the speakers. There was a presumption of good intent that people would do the best they could to help each other learn.

AND as a result, what I observed was people who had served in both progressive/liberal and conservative governmental administrations really worked to provide their best insights to great questions. AND the questioners treated all the speakers with respect. In mixed panels, the speakers disagreed with each other in ways that acknowledged the others’ value in the conversation, often noting points of agreement before presenting differing points.

AND this wonderful experience got me thinking. Wherever we find ourselves, if we pay attention to setting the context to accommodate differences, to welcome different perspectives, and to encourage curiosity, we create the context where we are able to discover new insights and connect civilly. We are more able to discover innovative solutions and higher levels of thought that take us beyond the levels of the challenges presented.

Einstein is famous for having taught that we cannot solve today’s problems with the same level of thinking that created the problem. Remembering this admonition, holding the intention to find new ways to engage new perspectives and include more voices that will enrich our path forward, AND paying attention to the context allow us to create the world we want to live in in the future. AND the hope of that promise is accessible to all when we pay attention to the context we need to put in place for it to happen.

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