The World Cafe Community

Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter

It's good to find common ground over the "common grounds" in a mug and to take some refreshing sips of common sense along the way.  Do you sometimes wonder, as I do, if there are voices not being heard because they're not at the table, or even in the shop?  One book I published this summer may open up more of the conversation to hand out more mugs as we practice a wider Weltanschauung.  My Address is a River: A Place to Belong, Closer to Home, is a collection of 70 stories about those who probably never come to the Cafe because they are not invited, or would not feel they belong;  people who have very little, who walk along the roads and paths and wireless connections just out of view. They may not have a computer, or even know how to use one.  Could it be that the ones who cannot afford a mug or liquid to fill their cup may have a very valuable contribution to make here?  These are questions that have troubled me for many years.  Who is excluded (accidentally or intentionally); who sits in the shadows in the corner; who is just outside our field of vision; who is invisibly nearby with just the wisdom we all need?  Maybe we don't wish to talk about it, or even think about it.  Maybe we do?  Maybe we need to?   

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These are great questions Chris!
I remember grassroots leaders from Leeds (UK) telling that inviting people to a conversation would not work for his people. He would start with inviting them over to have free pizza or something and then engaging them in a conversation... after all, having conversations in a structured way is a fairly Western and middle class way of operating, isn't it?
I think it is up to us, the hosts of the conversations, to be conscious about it and to adjust the principles of Café or other methodologies to make them fit to the audiences we have in mind.
I appreciate this, Ria. There is wisdom in your words and the observations of the grassroots leader. Are there creative cafes happening in Flanders?
Hello Chris, not really very creative cafes happening in Flanders, but I remember a cafe in a psychiatric institution, with patients, their family and all levels of professionals working there. We were still talking - not that creative - but we took a lot of effort to find the questions and the right language that would be understood by all people involved. I notice that in the end you end up with questions that speak to our human-being-ness, because that is where we are all the same.
I like that image, Ria. Those on the "margins" seem to hint at what we need to hear, yes? I used to facilitate a "wellness" group once a week with "street people." A bit crazy at times, but some of the most meaningful moments of my career. Maybe more of us could share these stories, or create more radically open circles for honest, diverse discussion and seeking for wellness.
I completely agree with your point, Ria, about it being our responsibility as hosts to fit our conversational method and language to match/meet the people we're hosting. I think that's the other side of the first World Cafe principle ("setting the context"); to respond to the context we find ourselves in and search for the most useful language and appropriate ways to connect with the people we are calling together, not just to communicate that context in a way that orients them.
Hi Chris!

I just love this conversation! The World Cafe is meant to be "inclusive" but sometimes the verbal language and the body language of those already sitting at the Cafe table can exclude. It's important to keep in mind that not everyone wants to join in but perhaps a couple of very simple and open questions could entice them! KISS: Keep it simple and sweet! Look for the positive seed and welcome them with deep heartfelt listening and encouraging words.

Thank you for all that you are doing to encourage and include. Your book sounds delightful!

Glad you are here! Barbara
Thanks Barbara. What you say makes sense. Maybe the point is to consistently ask ourselves who is potentially being excluded and how might I (we) better include. As I say, we are all seeking a place to belong.

All the best up north there.

I really appreciate the larger questions around inclusion and exclusion that you're bringing up in this thread (which is fast becoming more of a conversation than a Cybrary post :-), Chris, and ...

Just practically speaking, one quick point to make that you might not realize since you are just joining us and haven't yet experienced a World Cafe for yourself - World Cafe doesn't require a computer. In fact, 99% of World Cafes are face to face - and they are being held in all sorts of environments, including places where people have very little material wealth.

What we have or don't have is not really pertinent, but learning how to go beyond what we know, and an invitation to conversation that speaks to and reached everyone really is. I love Ria's example of the grassroots leader from Leeds having people over for pizza... it reminds me of Juanita's stories about the real business of the United Farm Workers being held at kitchen tables all over the country... :-)

Thanks for starting this thread, Chris.

I really am enjoying this conversation, and these are very important questions for us no matter where we are when we are engaging conversations.


Two short examples of why this line of questioning is important from my work in community transformation with communities in poverty worldwide:

1) my first lesson in choosing the right question: I asked a group of women in El Salvador in the mid 80's  to name their dreams for the future, what were their hopes? Lesson: when people are concerned about what they will feed their children today, or IF they will eat today...there is no thinking of "tomorrow" much LESS hope for some undefined future...future? who has time for that. I think that speaks to Amy's reminder of context.

2) In Niger, working with communities (again) to define their future, it took a colleague 4 months to find the RIGHT word in the local language to communicate the concept of community engagement. So, yes, the importance of context AND the nuances of language (I think someone here had a post related to this in a mental health setting).


Then lastly, just a plug for a fascinating is somewhat provocative book: The Tyranny of Participation (I think I have that title right) which also speaks to Chris's concern: just because you have people together doesn't mean that others have been left out, and thus asks the question, what does participation really mean?


What I really appreciate about Chris's concern is just that: his attention and concern that all of us be careful to ask ourselves, who's missing from our tables?

Those are appropriate and helpful examples, Susan.  I suppose my concern is more interested in hearing from those who may very well be present but not truly included.  Sometimes merely asking those who have not spoken up can be incredibly educating.  Those in the back row, over in the shadows, off to the side, standing in the doorway. . .may have the wisdom everyone really needs, whether we admit it or not.  

I think this attentiveness and awareness are a good way to constantly check just how "real" and "present" (and even relevant) the gathering really is. 

Thanks everyone for the comments.  I raise my mug of Darjeeling to you.



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