Free Intelligent Conversation Manifesto

Free Intelligent Conversation (FreeIC) is a social movement-turned-non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating meaningful face-to-face conversations between strangers. We want to meet people, learn from them, and use what we’ve learned to make the world a better place. FreeIC.org

Free Intelligent Conversation is a movement for those interested in learning from everyone they encounter. It is a place for the curious, the jaded, the academic, the self-taught, the skeptic, and the believer. It is a movement for those looking to improve themselves and the world around them through meaningful conversations.



You Are Intelligent

Intelligence is a process of acquiring knowledge, not an achievement.

Knowledge is a resource that is dispersed amongst the members of society and manifests itself in different ways. An intelligent conversation is one where we gain knowledge from whom we are speaking with. Making intelligent conversations a regular part of our lives requires us to continually seek to learn from the people we encounter. The process of seeking to learn from those we encounter will provide us each with the greatest intelligence.

Intelligence is often perceived as unidimensional and we tend to determine how intelligent a person is based on how much they know or achieve by society’s standards. These standards often oversimplify how we perceive intelligence because they fail to notice how knowledge can be gained from personal life experience. By overvaluing these typical measures of intelligence, we undermine the process of gaining knowledge through lived experiences. Intelligence has many forms, and it is a mistake to place significant value in one form while depreciating the others.

With Free Intelligent Conversation we want to learn from everyone we meet and believe that the value of our individual insights is reason enough to seek each other out. We believe that the most socially responsible, noble, and honorable thing to do with the knowledge one has acquired is to share it with other members of society, in an attempt to benefit humanity. We believe that by continually seeking to learn from others we can improve ourselves and the world around us.

Social Freedom of Speech

Social Freedom of Speech is an understanding that anything can be said and everyone gets the benefit of the doubt.

The exchange and evaluation of ideas is our greatest mechanism for individual and collective development. The freedom to think and express oneself permits opportunities for the truth to surface and prevail in one’s life. Exchanging ideas with others is also therapeutic, as it provides an outlet for thoughts causing internal dissonance. Individuals who exchange ideas are more dynamic; their minds are breeding grounds for new ideas, innovations, and introspection. By repeatedly engaging with other ideas, we refine our own thought process and allow ourselves to fully reach our truest potential.

Despite the benefits of exchanging ideas, we perpetually hinder this process by unwittingly discouraging people from sharing their thoughts. In our day-to-day interactions, people are often apprehensive about speaking freely due to a fear of unfavorable judgement and punishment. A fear rooted in the suspicion that the participants involved are keen on making a rash judgement more than they are willing to listen and understand. Allowing this censorship to carry on is detrimental to our well-being, as we will squander opportunities to learn from one another and improve our lives. The act of engaging in free dialogue with others is so beneficial that it should be regularly encouraged, continuously sought out, and practiced routinely.

With Free Intelligent Conversation we create sacred spaces where no topic is taboo and participants know they can speak freely and without the fear of harsh judgement. A place where people can be vulnerable and unapologetically speak their truths. A playground where ideas can interact, be challenged, and refined. A venue where people seek to reach their full potential and help others do the same through dialogue. A place where, no matter what is said, participants strive to communicate with each other respectfully. A place of conversation, not quarrel.

Free Intelligent Conversation promotes social freedom of speech: an understanding between communicating parties that the environment is one where anything can be said and everyone gets the benefit of the doubt. In creating these places we also hope to create a culture of people who are willing to talk to anyone about anything. A culture willing to talk about the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. A culture welcoming people they disagree with and inviting them to speak freely. A culture that can listen to others’ opinions without needing to convince them of their own. A culture of people who acknowledge their own ignorance and can disagree, without becoming adversaries.

Free Intelligent Conversation actively creates outlets for others to share their most intimate and deeply felt thoughts. We are devoted to defending environments that encourage people to share whatever is on their mind. We want to inspire others to speak freely by encouraging social freedom of speech.

Celebrating Our Differences

Our differences should be distinctive, not divisive.

The shared perception that our differences are significant is more responsible for our inability to collaborate than the differences themselves. The focus on our differences — whether social, cultural, racial, or economic — is distorted. This distortion has led us to be, at times, overly divisive; sometimes causing us to treat people as stereotypes, not individuals. We often perpetuate this divisiveness out of shyness, uneasiness, and fear of vulnerability. To avoid discomfort, we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals.

While it is convenient and at times necessary for us to congregate with people like us, we must make a regular practice to seek out those we label as different. Otherwise we’re at risk of developing a myopic understanding and depriving ourselves of potentially transformative experiences. We will also miss out on the joy and growth associated with learning something new. Discomfort is a small price to pay for knowledge, and not paying this fee leaves us exposed to the larger penalty of negative stereotypes, prejudice, and bigotry.

Free Intelligent Conversation believes in paying the price of knowledge. We believe our differences should be distinctive, not divisive. We believe it to be in our individual and collective interest to inform ourselves about each other’s differences. Learning about other perspectives not only helps us understand one another, but also increases self awareness. The differences between things are best revealed in high contrast. We can never truly know what makes us unique without context and people to benchmark against. We can only begin appreciating and learning from others when we come to see them as individuals. Seeing people as individuals involves two conscious choices: the first is to approach without prematurely categorizing them. The second, is to listen as if you have something to learn from them. In our current sociopolitical climate — given global tension over refugees, immigration, racism, hatred, and harassment — seeing people as individuals has revolutionary implications.

We believe the best way to learn from our differences is to engage in conversation. Conversation is our greatest tool for collaborating in an open-ended way. Through successfully attempting to have conversations with people who have different views, we lay the foundation for goodwill and empathy amongst each other. Free Intelligent Conversation creates places where we seek out, learn from, and celebrate each other’s differences through conversation.

Conversations in Cities

Cities are enhanced when the communities within are connected.

Half of humanity — 3.5 billion people — lives in cities today and this number is expected to grow. Cities are centers of activity for ideas, commerce, productivity, science, and social development. Cities provide the best opportunity for social and economic advancement. To capitalize on the advantages that cities offer there must be ongoing opportunities to convene, collaborate, and converse amongst the various communities within. In a city there are plenty of activities, but few public places that actively facilitate fellowship.

Along with the individuals who live in these growing communities, tourists also commonly interact with cities. Aside from work-related purposes, people primarily visit cities to have a semblance of what life in that city may be like. Despite this desire, visitors often leave cities without ever having tapped into its culture. Even the most intentional of visitors are likely to struggle finding individuals from the city who are willing and able to interact. As a result, visitors often find themselves shopping and eating at the same chain franchises they frequent at home — all while leaving much of the city unexplored, and fail to experience what it truly has to offer.

With Free Intelligent Conversation we believe that the most profound way for a visitor to experience a city is to spend time in conversation with people from the city, as locals have the best insight on what’s to love about the city. We create public places of active fellowship, where residents and tourists can meet and have meaningful conversations.

We are aligned with the United Nations goal to create Sustainable Cities and Communities — the 11th goal within the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals — which plainly stated is: “To make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Free Intelligent Conversation creates opportunities for socio-economic mixing and generates positive contact between people of different social groups, by means of meaningful face-to-face conversations in public spaces. Our approach is an innovative and inexpensive solution to building sustainable, vibrant cities. With Free Intelligent Conversation we believe we will vitalize business, friendship, and community development and create more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities.

Meaningful Conversations

Meaningful conversations catalyze long-term changes in behavior, attitude, and/or perspective.

Small-talk is best used as a bridge to meaningful conversations and should not comprise the core of a discussion. Though at times necessary, small-talk is mostly unmemorable and leaves participants uninspired. It may even become a burden that causes unnecessary anxiety in undesirable but socially mandated interactions. To combat the hollowness of small-talk we must be intentional about our attitudes when talking to one another, as that is the best way to transform our empty dialogues into meaningful conversations.

Meaningful conversations are conversations that catalyze long-term changes in behavior, attitude, and/or perspective. They are the conversations that call us to be vulnerable and empathetic. They call us to speak our truths and also to hear the truths of others — the truth about their experiences and their ideas. The truth about who they are, and why they are. Meaningful conversations are the most desirable conversations, yet we constantly pass up the opportunities to have them.

With Free Intelligent Conversation we want to catalyze a culture that encourages people to seek out meaningful conversations. We minimize small-talk and trivial pleasantries, and instead prioritize learning about the underlying ideas and stories that compose people’s unique identities. We encourage others to discuss the things that excite, scare, and move them.

In our society, there are few places designated to creating and having meaningful conversations. In an attempt to satiate our desire for meaningful interactions we sometimes resort to trivial social gatherings, awkward parties, and dull evenings at the bar or club, hoping to have an interesting conversation.

With Free Intelligent Conversation we create public spaces for meaningful interactions. We create places where conversations happen for conversations’ sake. A designated space where nothing is being sold, and no one is pushing a religious or political agenda. A public place one can reliably turn to for connecting with people. A place where, by virtue of being present, you indicate that you are interested and willing to talk to anyone about anything. A place where people can be unapologetic about their appetite for talking to, connecting with, and learning from others.

To this end, Free Intelligent Conversation intends to first inspire a culture of people that seeks out meaningful conversations, and then create public places where they can happen.

Face-to-Face Conversations

Face-to-face interaction improves our ability to communicate and connect with people.

For the first time in history, we are immersed in the digital world and detached from the real one. In the age of digital technology, it’s difficult to tell if we interact more through our screens than we do in person. The majority of our conversations — business or personal — take place via text message, email, instant message, and social media platforms. Our advances in technology have made communicating far more convenient, but with a price: with our increased dependency on technology, we decrease opportunities for face-to-face interactions.

Face-to-face interactions are necessary for strong relationships, proper socialization, and the development of great communication skills. As our day-to-day becomes increasingly busy, we must keep in mind that despite the convenience our technology provides, it cannot replace the need for face-to-face communication altogether.

In-person interactions is one of the basic components of our social system. They are a significant part of individual socialization and consequently central to the development of groups and organizations composed of those individuals. In face-to-face interactions we are able to communicate with our whole bodies. Non-verbal cues are just as crucial as the words we say: our facial expression, posture, gesture, tone, and eye contact give powerful suggestions about what we’re trying to communicate — much is expressed through a simple smile or nod.

Face-to-face interactions provide better communication feedback loops: participants are able to give immediate visual feedback, which informs whether or not communicating parties are understanding each other and how participants feel about the discussion. In contrast, the appeal of written communication is that it allows us to craft our message with precision through extensive revisions and edits. Though this medium encourages greater accuracy, it does not allow us to gauge reader reception. Much of our tone is left to the reader’s imagination, which at times leads to miscommunication. Miscommunication is essentially inevitable, however, face-to-face interactions allow us to immediately identify and resolve misunderstanding.

Face-to-face interactions call us to be present by requiring our full attention: we can’t email, text, or be secretly distracted. Face-to-face interactions better allow people to address sensitive issues, which is necessary to build trust, empathy, and strong relationships. Face-to-face interactions are instances of shared real-life experience that can enhance future communication between people. These are some of the aspects that make face-to-face more meaningful than other methods of communication.

As we spread our online relationships wide and thin on social media, the value of each connection is lessened and the benefits we gain from each connection decreases. It is often difficult, if not impossible, on social media to recreate the conditions that define deep, intimate relationships. At best, our social media friends are a supplement, not a substitute, of real-life interactions with people. Real-life relationships help us learn about others and ourselves. Online friendships, while certainly valuable in many ways, do not satisfy our deepest needs for intimacy derived from proximity. We should seek out our online friends, rekindle lost connections, and revisit childhood friendships, as long as it is not at the expense of real-life relationships.

Our online interactions provide anonymity that is often used to create misleading identities. Written communication allows us to assemble our words until they fit the image we want to project, something that is more difficult to do in a real life conversation. Since we can craft and edit our message, it is much easier to be duplicitous or even self-deluding.

As the coming generations grow up with technology at their fingertips, we must encourage the development of real-life interpersonal skills. We’ve learned to boldly share and defend our thoughts and opinions online, but are apprehensive of doing so in person. We’ve gained social media skills while neglecting our people skills.

While technology has streamlined business communication and social media has provided us with glimpses into other people’s’ lives, we don’t want to forget the important, intimate parts of human connection that only face-to-face interaction provides. We are often distracted from and belittling our living experiences: we attend social functions and prefer to use our cell phones, tablets, and computers rather than engage in conversations. The technology that promised to bring us closer together, by connecting us better than we had ever been before, has instead made some of us reclusive and has put us in ideological echo chambers. This isolation has negative effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health. Having close and frequent connections with friends and community promotes healthy behaviors which encourage a more socially-oriented populace.

With the increase of communication technology, as a society we’ve lost the appreciation for the art of conversation and in person interactions. As a consequence, we have undermined our best tool for building deep, real-life, meaningful relationships. As our online networks grow, we increasingly feel lonely and disconnected from those around us. At some point we must acknowledge that we can’t have it both ways: we cannot be impersonal and expect to have deep connections. If we want deep connections with our community, we must be willing to work for them.

Free Intelligent Conversation is creating face-to-face conversations as a counter-cultural response to social isolation. We want to be present and remove distractions to have focused, uninterrupted dialogue. We appreciate conversation as an art form, relishing the beauty of communication subtleties that are only felt face-to-face. We want to look people in the eyes while we talk about sensitive issues. We want to read body language and end our interactions with handshakes and hugs. We want to celebrate with high fives, and feed off of the energy of the people around us. We want to witness people laughing out loud, shaking their heads, or rolling on the floor laughing.

We want to improve our ability to communicate and connect with people without hiding behind technology. Free Intelligent Conversation is not a protest against technology or social media; we just don’t want social media to become the crutch that our relationships lean on. Though we use our devices and screens to stay in contact, we organize in public spaces to celebrate life.

We want to be as intentional as we can about engaging with and maintaining relationships with our community and encourage others to do the same. We will provide a place where people — especially across generations — can meet, learn from each other, and build deep relationships. With Free Intelligent Conversation we want to encourage a culture of people who understand the value of face-to-face interactions, seek them out, and encourage their community to engage in them likewise.

Talking to Strangers

Conversation with strangers is an invitation to see the world from another person’s perspective.

The world is a big crowd we often feel alone in. We have friends and family in certain pockets of the world, but most of our interactions involve strangers. We often feel isolated even though we share spaces with and are surrounded by people. This seems unnecessary, considering that strangers just are people we don’t know yet.

The people we know provide a sense of intimacy and connection, but it’s important to remember that strangers can also contribute to our sense of belonging. Even though momentary, a quick hello, or a nod of acknowledgement can make us feel less isolated. On some days this is our only sense of human connection — without it, we feel empty. Especially in large cities, talking to strangers reminds us that we all live there together.

The unexpected interruption of a conversation with a stranger disrupts the natural order of our day and calls us to our full attention. As a response, we have a heightened sense of awareness of the world around us. It calls us to be awake, in the moment, and attentive to our surroundings. Surprisingly, it is sometimes easier to share intimate parts of our lives with strangers than it is with people we know. When talking to strangers, we can be vulnerable because we feel that we have nothing to lose. We can openly share our stories, opinions, and secrets without the fear of long term consequences. In this context, you may find yourself sharing feelings you hadn’t talked about yet, or details about your life that only a few people know. Strangers are likely to reciprocate, which strengthens the connection. Overall, the heightened awareness and the freedom to be vulnerable facilitates intimacy between absolute strangers.

Conversation with strangers is an invitation to see the world from another person’s perspective. When we take the time to connect with strangers, even briefly, it moves us away from fear and towards empathy. People develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. The more familiar we are with a person, the more we’re likely to interact with and have positive experiences with them. Positive experiences with one person from a given social group reduce prejudice toward the entire group to which that person belongs.

Talking with strangers is a life-changing experience, but is difficult to initiate for various reasons. For one, we often don’t have an “excuse” to start conversations. We also don’t know what’s acceptable behavior in this context since we don’t want to be perceived as disruptive or abrasive. These uncertainties, however, are what makes conversations with strangers captivating. Many of us would like to have more of these unexpected, intimate moments with strangers — we just don’t think we have a reason for them to happen. For those of us who are more willing to approach strangers, we need some kind of cue that lets us know we are welcome.

With Free Intelligent Conversation we provide an excuse to spark up conversation between strangers. We create places where strangers can meet, talk, and have public opportunities for positive interactions. We encourage strangers not only to talk with us, but also with each other. We believe that by making conversation with strangers more accessible we can positively transform both individuals and the communities, cities, and countries that they live in.

Conclusion

We know that getting strangers to talk to each other is a tall order. We’ve been told that we’re too idealistic. Some people think we want their money. Others think it’s a trick or hoax. Some people are suspicious and want to know “who we work for” or “why we’re really here.” Some find it impossible to conceive that there could be a group of people interested in just talking to others. Some recognize that — in some small way — we want to change the world; and they smile sympathetically at us, feeling sure that the world can’t really be changed like this.

What they don’t know is that we’ve been changed.

We’ve been inspired. We’ve broken out of our comfort zones. We’ve heard stories that have made us laugh, and we’ve had conversations that have brought us to tears. We’ve gotten dates and we’ve been offered jobs. We’ve learned how to be present. We’ve learned about different cultures, and how to appreciate them. We gained insight about ourselves. We learned how to disagree without becoming enemies. We’ve had long chats with our elders. We’ve been given great advice, and have been a listening ear to many. We’ve heard new ideas and we’ve heard dumb ideas. We’ve changed our long held opinions and we’ve let go of previously held prejudices. We’ve made great friends — all from taking time to talk with strangers.

We want to encourage people to have meaningful, face-to-face conversations and we will create designated places for them to happen. A place where we can learn about the experiences of others, and be vulnerable, honest, and inquisitive. We want to create these places in every city. Our hope is that these designated places will attract and nurture a particular kind of person. The kind of person who tries to learn from everyone they meet. The kind of person that cultivates authentic relationships, and puts away their devices to interact with the real world. The kind of person who looks for ways to engage with their community and broaden their social networks in meaningful ways. The kind of person who can communicate across generational, cultural, and ideological boundaries. We believe this kind of person will change the world for the better.

There are a lot of problems in the world and though we don’t have the answers to them, we believe that the first step towards a solution is to get people to talk to each other. We believe that we can solve these problems one conversation at a time.

If you see us holding a sign that reads “Free Intelligent Conversation,” come talk to us. About what? About anything and everything. The only thing needed for an intelligent conversation is willing individuals. We’re willing.

Are you?

Edit 8/7/2017: You can find a read-through of the Manifesto here:


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