Curious
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Curious

Open Model for a Philosophy Discussion Club

A few years ago I found myself wanting a way to connect with my friends more often. Everyone is busy with work and life. And it was frustrating not having a quality way to connect and maintain friendships. Social media and the occasional text or message exchange doesn’t cut it. I craved meaningful connections with the people I cared about.

I began with my interests. More than two decades ago I took philosophy and literature classes in college. These were some of my favorite classes. Since then, philosophy and big ideas and human issues have enamored me. I read books and think on these topics and will share and discuss ideas with anyone who will listen!

Gaining new perspectives through which to see and make sense of the world is compelling to me. I wondered if my guy friends would join me in a group that discussed philosophical topics. As it turns out, they did. Now I had an efficient way to maintain my friendships and discuss the things that excite me.

The group I founded along with two other friends was the Bros Philosophy Club or BPC. The purpose was to convene together with a half dozen or so of my closest guy friends once a month or every few weeks. We’d have beers or cocktails or whatever and catch up and discuss big ideas.

It’s important to mention here that this is not exclusive to groups of men. Anyone can form a group like this, invite all different types of people, and enjoy all the benefits. Diversity is a great thing in a discussion group like this! In my case, I was looking to connect more often with my guy friends and maintain those relationships.

The BPC inspired at least two other groups that I know about. And I was more than happy to share the model and what I’ve learned along the way. There is value in groups of ordinary people getting together to discuss big ideas in person in a civil way. The benefits are many:

  • Provides a respite from the world of digital communications
  • Enhances relationships with the people you care about
  • Creates new friendships
  • Builds communication and conflict resolution skills
  • Opens your mind to new opinions, beliefs, values, and perspectives
  • Challenges your own ingrained thinking
  • And more that I haven’t realized yet

So, without further ado here is the open model for a philosophy discussion club. It’s based on the original vision and what I’ve learned along the way. You are welcome to take and use this model how you wish. If you have questions or feedback, please use the comments on this article and I’ll respond as soon as I can.

Open Model for a Philosophy Discussion Group

Name

Call your group whatever you want. I called our initial group the Bros Philosophy Club. The group I am currently a part of, started by a good friend of mine, is the Water Closet. It’s called the Water Closet because it correlates to the bathroom. And that’s where some of us do some of our best thinking. :-)

Purpose

To cultivate enduring friendships, empathy, and stronger communication skills. We do this through courteous, in-person discourse among a diverse group of people. Society and the world will benefit when more of this is happening.

Vision

The [Your group name] is a place for [Whatever you call you members] of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to discuss big ideas. We do this in a casual, comfortable setting. over beers or cocktails or whatever. The point is to have fun, gain perspective, and make friends. We achieve this through engaging, respectful, and enriching discussions.

Values

Humility
Courtesy
Self-control
Openness
Rationality
Fun!

Guidelines

  1. Be curious and get out of your comfort zone! Be open to ideas or beliefs that seem odd, make you uncomfortable or that you disagree with. Whatever people share, it doesn’t mean you have to like it or adopt it. Remember, beliefs don’t make a person bad. Behaviors born of beliefs that harm others make a person bad. People may have beliefs that offend or repel you, but that doesn’t make them a bad person.
  2. Be courteous! Be respectful of everyone in the group and their backgrounds, experiences, and education. These elements combine to create filters through which we interpret the world. Rarely will two people have the same filters set up in the same way. (“…every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that, I learn from him. — Emerson)
  3. Listen up! Be an active, attentive listener. If you must interrupt, do it like a gentleperson. No talking over anyone. Courteous interruptions are acceptable. (“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” — Steven Covey)
  4. Attack positions, not people! It’s ok to attack another person’s position on an issue, but do not attack them as a person. See Rule #2 for more on this.
  5. Be thoughtful and respond! Manage your emotional reactions. Allow for some time-space between what you heard or think you want to say and how you want to respond. If you frequent news or social feeds, remember that these technologies encourage reactiveness.

Format

  • 20–30 minutes, catch up and casual conversation
  • 2 minutes, organizer introduces the topic
  • *10–15 minutes, opening statements/arguments (2–3 minutes per person)
  • *60–70 minutes, discussion/debate (open flow, but generally 10–15 minutes per person)
  • *10–15 minutes, closing statements (2–3 minutes per person)
  • Light group physical activity (see tips section below for more on this)

* These will vary according to how much time you have and how many people are in the group. Use basic math and common sense and you’ll be fine!

Topics

Ideas for topics are easy to come by. Books, articles, quotes, poems, films, podcasts, music, the shower, etc can provide inspiration. Here are a couple examples. Google to your heart’s content and you will find abundant ideas.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
205 Philosophical Questions

Tips

It seems that at least 4 people are necessary for a quality discussion to take place. Less than 4 and there might not be enough energy or diversity of perspective. At least 5 or 6 people seems ideal. More than 6 and having enough time for everyone to share their ideas might become an issue.

Tangents are OK and sometimes even worthwhile and enjoyable. But to be respectful of everyone, you might have to guide back people who go too far off track for too long. Anyone in the group can moderate as long as they can do it with respect.

If a discussion gets heated, a moderator or someone in the group can suggest a “timeout”. Have the involved parties take a break, take a walk, take some breaths, etc. Whatever it takes to regain a sense of calm.

Having deep conversation, especially if it is cathartic, can build up tension in the body. A friend of mine had the genius idea to include some light, group physical activity at the end of sessions. Take a walk, ride bikes, or do a little stretching or yoga together. Notice and relieve some of the tension that’s built up in the bodies.

Hold meetings every two or three weeks or at the least once a month on the same day each week.

Brewpubs and breweries seem to work well for meetings. Be sure to look at event calendars for these venues in advance. Ensure there’s no trivia or live music or some other loud distracting thing going on. Also, this is the year of COVID, so depending on your situation consider a safe, small gathering at someone’s home. You might even consider a Zoom meeting though digital is definitely not preferred.

I’m on the fence about inviting in strangers to a group. I have never tried it. Though instincts tell me to keep it close. Invite friends and then have friends invite other friends. Seems safer that way.

If you have new people in the group, be gentle with them. Discussing deep topics requires trust. Vulnerability can only occur if trust is in place and that can take time. Newbies might not want to talk or share much and that’s ok.

Group text messages work for organizing meetings. But any means of communicating will do if it works for everyone. Send an announcement within a day or two after each meeting about when the next meeting will be. Then do a one-week reminder, then a final reminder the day of or the day before.

License

This is an open model. Anyone can pick it up and run with it! I’m giving you this for free as a starting point. You can do whatever you want with it. By all means INNOVATE! If you do, I’d love to hear how you’ve innovated in the comments.

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Adam Dudley

Adam Dudley

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Life’s too short for bad coffee! Business and marketing guy. I love science, tech, startups, and philosophy. I practice Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga 6 days/week.