- by Thomas Willington
What is the nature of agreements? How do we make them with one another, with ourselves, and with the world? Are all agreements made by choice? Are they signed and sealed, or are some agreements assumed? These are just a few of the questions posed to the participants of this winter's Think OutWord Conference, from which a whole variety of insightful and sparkling thoughts, conversations, lectures, and activities emerged.
The conference is “a peer-led training in social threefolding . . . which is grounded in, though not limited to, an understanding of the threefold nature of the human being and of society, primarily as it was articulated by the early 20th century philosopher, Rudolf Steiner.”
Upon arriving in Harlemville, New York, a fairly small town which boasts the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, Hawthorne Valley Farm, an organic market, and book store, registration took place followed by a wonderful potluck dinner. After catching up with old friends, and meeting new faces, we adjourned to the music hall where the recipients of the Credere Fund grants were presented along with several artistic presentations. The Credere Fund aims to support individuals who have taken initiative and are connected with anthroposophy, be it in the realm of social work, education, or art. To read more about this year’s recipients or to support the Credere fund, click here.
As the first evening drew to a close, we were all fairly exhausted from the drive and happy to discover that all the Torontonians were to be billeted in the same home, nice and simple. However, getting there was not. First, we turned the wrong way on the highway, and drove almost half an hour in the wrong direction while enjoying a sleepy sing-along before realizing our mistake. Getting back on track, we again got lost on the country back roads. Finally arriving, we were greeted by Christina and Bronko who were outstandingly gracious and kind hosts. They provided luxurious sleeping accommodations, great snacks and teas, and wonderful conversation. They truly welcomed the five of us into their home and we cannot thank them enough. Making our way back to Harlemville bright and early on Saturday morning, we enjoyed a hot breakfast and commenced with the busy day that was ahead.
One of the keynote speakers that were scheduled to appear was Orland Bishop, but unfortunately he was tied up in Los Angles with several urgent matters. This however offered the opportunity for Robert Karp to lead the group in an exercise developed by Otto Scharmer, a Senior Lecturer at MIT, where we broke into groups of four to address an important issue, thought, problem, or idea that one member of the group, the case giver, would bring to the table. Needless to say, it was a very interested exercise which presented a specific technique towards problem solving that allowed each member of the group to bring a fresh perspective to the table and present them to the case giver in a highly constructive manner. Among other lectures and workshops on Saturday was a philosophical lecture by Luke Fischer on ‘The Word’ which touched on works from Georg Kuhlewind, by Emmanuel Levinas, and Rudolf Steiner. Sarah Hearn also spoke on a variety of themes including three types of money, and outlining the basic principles of social threefolding. The last activities before dinner were the artistic workshops which included eurythmy, painting, speech, and singing. After yet another wonderful meal, much of which was from local bio-dynamic sources, we were treated to a great a performance by the Off Leash Improv troop.
Sunday was the last day of the conference. One of the highlights was the Open Space Technology exercise which was facilitated by Seth Jordan and Peter Buckbee. It involved individuals coming to the centre of the room with conversation ideas where were shared with the group and posted on the blackboard. There were over twenty different conversations to choose from ranging from higher education to our current monetary system to Nicanor Perlas’ work in the Philippines. As the conference drew to a close, it occurred to me that one of the things that made this conference different, and that makes this community so open, is its emphasis on peer-led facilitation. Other conferences have strict guidelines, time tables, and programmes, but such a rigid structure allows little room for real creativity or growth. At Think OutWord there were a group of organizers who did an outstanding job of putting the conference together, but they were all there as participants just as much as the rest of us. Similarly, each and every individual was given the space and encouraged to bring their own ideas to the group or to lead an activity or conversation. This experience was only enriched by the space that was created. This was a space where the question of agreements could really be explored. Although it went by in a flash, I believe we all left the conference not only with new friends, ideas, connections, and agreements, but also with a more vivid, holistic, and conscious understanding of just what our agreements really are, and how they help define our identity.