The note below is about lessons that can be learned (and not just “criticism”). I hope the result will be to cause us to think about some things and maybe spare ourselves some “downsides”.
As some of us move toward mutual discussions in Colorado with our Snowmass Interspiritual Initiative colleagues, and especially
(1) as we aim toward The Dawn of Interspirituality Conference and other future conferences, and
(2) the debate/hope that we can emerge with an “Association” that can move interspirituality toward a coherent universal message across a wide variety of cooperating constituencies,
we can learn a lot from the downsides of the Contemplative Alliance’s conference in New York City the last few days.
This conference had some very inspiring speakers BUT also an apparent downside resulting, many thought, from its “old paradigm hierarchical organization process and overall tone”. This is probably because (like it or not re: the implications) the planning of the conference and side events didn’t really involve an ongoing collegial “Alliance process” but ended up being created (advertantly or inadvertantly), esp. toward the end, by just one or two of the “hierarchical” leaders without apparent outside consultation.
[Yes, there were a couple planning meetings in advance, with some Alliance members who could attend them, but the end-result program veered quite far afield from the content of those meetings, surprising a lot of people. Yes, this may have just been a fact of life, but in the long run just a few people made all the major decisions and without any heads ups to anyone else, it seemed]. This has got to be avoided, it would seem, or you get the same results below–
The impressions of many [at least those who spoke to me], were that this conference also reflected “old paradigm structure and atmosphere”. Some examples stated included these: the conference’s content, to some, appeared to be dominated by creation of a “list of stars” cobbled together without much coherence, or without a well thought-out plan, strategic direction or universal message. People voiced they felt it was more about “just having a conference” instead of visioning a coherent direction or goal. (Yes, this could have simply resulted from who said “Yes” to an invitation and who didn’t, but the result still appeared to be a lack of cohesion or clear direction).
There were two major Speakers who voiced a coherent direction but, some felt, other speakers seemed fine with taking the conference in other directions– more like a “free for all”. There was also, perhaps from the invitation process for THIS event, a cacophany of new faces– without any familiarity with the past work of the “Alliance”. This appeared to create a rather “random atmosphere”– one simply showcasing this and showcasing that. This may explain why actual verbal sparring or innuendo also came up in sessions about racial, class, or gender makeup at the conference etc.– creating an unfortunate “bad vibration”. Usually that kind of “bad vibe” can be avoided when the atmosphere of an event has an overall coherence or clear tone of a collective sponsoring group.
As in “old paradigm” conferences some speakers appeared to just talk “to” the audience. Some went way over their time limits or even ignored “time warnings”. This left those at the end of the program with very little time at all. Also, there was uneven, sometimes even minimal, success at creating wider engagement of the audience [unfortunate if all of them are already “leader types”] or their feeling of involvement [depending on the facilitator]). Since many authentic “leader types” attended, some actually asked “how do you get the spot-light?” “who do you need to know?, etc.” and that is an unfortunate vibe.
At the end there appeared to be really No mutual visioning session about direction or future goals, which direction and decisions again seemed to be the purview of the hierarchy in charge who would decide “later on” on their own.
Yes, people felt lucky to have heard this or that famous speaker, free of charge and also with free meals (this was an expensive conference for the funders!), but many voiced their feeling about the lack of participant inclusiveness or how decisions had been made to spotlight what etc. or create what direction. I think there is a lot here that can be avoided so that is why it probably needs to be said.
I must say I never heard these types of comments about The Big I conference and I certainly hope we can learn from the frequency of these comments that appear to have come out of this recent event in New York City. Also, on the good side, I am part of a new group of 18 “leader types” that begin meeting in June (and will again in July) and this group REALLY has it’s head on straight about “new leadership” models and appears that it will form up as a new experiment in the New York City area. So, it IS possible to vision “new paradigms”. This new group seems SERIOUS.
OVERALL, it does make one question if significant parts of our interfaith community are really not interested in new paradigm leadership, advertantly or inadvertantly. If we’re not, I doubt how far we can go. Yes, we can just do events and conferences, but those have been going on for decades.
The Lesson Learned? I don’t think old time one or two leader hierarchy is the way we want to go. We can talk talk talk holonic, horizontal, collegial, “new leadership” style but we REALLY have to go there. My take away from this last Contemplative “Alliance” venture is that people readily SEE and IDENTIFY when the “old stuff” is still going on.
And I’m not sure there is a quick solution, or even that this is the result the recent New York folk wanted, but I think it does happen when we continue to think that old time hiearchical or monotypic leadership is still the default setting. As this new group of 18 said too, YES, we also don’t want to go to “committee rule” (GREEN) either, but THERE HAS GOT TO BE SOMETHING ELSE. Whatever it is I urge us to look for it.