Thursday, June 28, 2012

Having a Silent Discussion

Photo Credit:  Matthew Knutson
Back in January, when we began the semester at the college where I worked at the time, we had one chapel service that was quite unique.  Our theme for the semester was "Who Is Jesus?," based on the gospel according to Mark, and our service on this particular day was one that was interactive.  Instead of a typical worship service, we had a discussion.

It wasn't just a regular discussion, however; it was a silent discussion.

I'd gotten the idea from a former student who had learned about it from one of the history professors on campus; he'd done it occasionally in his classes.

As people arrived this particular morning, I was pretty nervous; what if it went badly?  I loved the idea, but was it too different?  Would people think it was weird and not participate?  I'd set up the power point with instructions and we had someone playing the piano for background music.

Slowly, a couple of people got up to start the discussion (ok, I'd asked them ahead of time to do that in case everyone else was too shy to be first).  But even as they got up, so did others that I had not asked, and then more, and there was rarely a moment when someone was not writing something.  Often, people were standing in line to write their thoughts and respond to others' thoughts.  Nobody had to feel intimidated or bullied due to another's tone or facial expressions.  Nobody had to feel as though they couldn't speak up.  Nobody had to get nervous about the spotlight being on them, because multiple people could "speak" at one time.

Chapel only lasts for 20 minutes, and people wrote the entire time.  Some even stayed afterwards in order to continue the discussions.  We almost ran out of room on the paper, as you can see in the picture above.

It was a beautiful day and I will always remember it, because although there were differing thoughts and ideas and questions, it was civil.  There were no raised voices; there was no yelling; there was no arrogance or hostility or belittling.  It was simply an exchange of ideas about who this person of Jesus, that we all believe in, was and is.

It truly was a special day, and I hope to be able to have more silent discussions in the future.  It serves as a reminder that we are too often quick to voice our opinions and quick to dismiss others.  In this discussion, we had no choice but to be patient and wait for others to express their own thoughts ideas.  We had to process those thoughts and then write our own.

We had to acknowledge and respect the people around us and what they had to say.

That doesn't happen often enough in vocal discussions.  Maybe we should have more silent ones.

In what other ways might a silent discussion be beneficial?  Who is Jesus to you?  Do you ever have questions or thoughts about him that you don't feel safe or comfortable expressing?  


Joy said...

Facebook is a bit of a silent discussion. Albeit probably not always as respectful as what you witnessed in that environment.

Jim Fisher said...

Thank you for putting the question in present tense. WWJD bracelets always kind of bugged me. The question in my mind was more along the lines of "What IS Jesus doing?"

"Where are you at work, here, Lord? How can I help?"

Kelly said...

I see what you are saying about FB, but I think it, blogs, and discussion forums, or any website still have the potential to become heated and angry because it is still each person behind his or her own computer. In a group silent discussion, the dynamics are very different. You know there is a real person behind the words being written because you can see them and I think that makes a difference.

I have a Jewish friend who told me she once had a coworker who would always ask WWJD and she finally told her one day "well, he wouldn't eat that ham sandwich you're having for lunch" :D

But yes, I do like using the present tense and I like how you put it to have us come alongside in his work.

Jim Fisher said...

OK. I almost snorted my coffee. Thanks!