Some notes on Priya Parker's "The Art of Gathering: How and Why it Matters"

Some notes on Priya Parker's "The Art of Gathering: How and Why it Matters"
The power of the stranger lies in what they bring out in us.  With strangers, there is  a temporary reordering of a balancing act that each of us is constantly attempting: between our past selves, and our future selves, between who we have been and who we are becoming.  Your friends and family know who you have been, and they often make it harder to try out who you might become.

The book was recommended to me by a new friend, Karla, who sang it’s praises one whiskey and pizza-filled night awhile ago.  I ordered the book immediately and savored the reading of it, and applications of it, over the next few months.  My husband always teases that I can never read purely for pleasure—that there is always some “grander” purpose behind it.  And although I giggle at his chiding, I can always only nod in agreement.  And so what?  Reading is learning. And learning means changing your behaviors.  If I am not doing that—what then? 😊

Parker has so many resonant points, (written in engaging, seemingly effortless prose) I will recount what I found as ubiquitously applicable so that anyone visiting here will be compelled to reading the full text on their own…

1.  How we welcome others into our space, or a space we are in charge of, matters.  And that welcome really begins with the invitation.  It must be purposeful—so guests know their roles, clear—to eschew any confusion about the event’s purpose, and engaging—that people will want to attend. Needless to say, my daily lesson plans at work will get a polish from this, but events at my home or that I am in charge of will begin to benefit.  The looseness of casual hosting might not be serving my guests as well as I think.  And who has time to waste? Physically being present at the entrance is invaluable.  It says you matter.  I value that you are here.  And while I am inclined to savoring last minute tasks cooking in the kitchen before a shared meal, I don’t often allow myself the indulgence (yes, sit there a minute) of greeting guests at the door.  “Come on in!” is often boisterously belted to create that, “Well, you’re here, so obviously that means you’re likely like family to me so enter, enter!” and might not be as ingratiating as it is intended to be…

2.  When sharing at any type of gathering, the “stump speech” where the speaker establishes themselves as a knowledgeable expert is going by the wayside…unless you’re channeling American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman… The more demure “sprout speech” admits a desire to grow from not-knowing to knowing with the aid and collaboration of the guests—or later, from the greater web of connections accessible to the guests likely not present.  This approach equalizes everyone to the same plane and engenders questions, hypotheses, and perhaps lively conversation and banter among attendees (opposed to only compliments for the speaker!)  It offers an admission, that is frankly true of the majority of us: that we still have a lot to learn, and here are my musings… (This, too has shifted in educational circles where the “sage on the stage” has bowed to the teacher-as-learner in order to model the learning process.)  Doing this at parties, and professional gatherings, can foster genuine discussion.

Our 2018 Pumpkin Carving Party!

3.  How we close an event is SO IMPORTANT! Housekeeping messages can end a meaningful interaction in such a lackluster way!  In class, for me, that parallels the “don’t forget your homework” spiel… for other formal engagements, it is the parking validation, hotel checkout process, certificate pick up…blah blah blah.  That is part of the body of the business, and should be organized there.  Even the “thank yous” don’t belong at the end—the long litany of names, that few attendees would know anyway, need to be embedded in the body to be purposeful; or addressed post-event, if they are to be private. We should always strive for the crescendo if we want our events to be memorable and resonant.  Saying farewell should be significant.  Guests should want to leave, no matter how trivial the event might seem, with a send-off.

They deserve something to remember.  I think of an old-fashioned Sunday family dinner—if every departing family member was walked to the door, told how valuable their presence was, told they were loved and their return anticipated, how connected people would feel.  It makes me reflect on how the rituals of “good night” are conducted with children.  How perfunctorily we leave  meetings with, “yes, I’ll get this, do that, contact so-and-so…” Rather:  “Thank you for sharing your ideas with us today” and  “I like how you suggested…” and “I appreciate your thoughts about…” … might make all the difference to someone’s commitment to the task—or to the people creating it.

There are many more opportunities for polishing any gathering in Parker’s book, but these really stuck with me as they ground her thesis:  Put others first. It helps me to focus on the fact that:

in class, nothing matters more than the human beings sitting in front of me—not the curriculum.

in my home, my honor resides with the guests—it’s not about the food nor the clean-up.

at a conference, my focus is on those in attendance—not the agenda.

And in a private conversation, my attention is on my partner—not our environment.

I am hoping to employ them as often as I can.

“…every time people gather…they are being brought into the opportunity to help one another, to do what they couldn’t do, or think up or heal alone…”