Cause Good Controversy

 


Seven


Cause Good Controversy

•   •   •

Enough about warmth. Let’s talk about heat.


I am often called in by gatherers who are looking for greater authenticity, but who are more interested in spice and heat than warmth and fuzziness. The skilled gatherer knows not only how to make people share and connect, but also how to make things fruitfully controversial.


While the last chapter was about bringing people closer together through what they share in common, this chapter is about making good use of what divides us in our gatherings. It is about how to turn up the heat. My belief is that controversy—of the right kind, and in the hands of a good host—can add both energy and life to your gatherings as well as be clarifying. It can help you use gatherings to answer big questions: what you want to do, what you stand for, who you are. Good controversy can make a gathering matter.

DO NOT NOT TALK ABOUT SEX, POLITICS, AND RELIGION

You may have grown up, as I did, hearing the adage to avoid talk of sex, politics, and religion at your gatherings. This commandment to avoid the dangerously interesting is widespread. Personally, I believe that few things are as responsible for the mediocrity and dullness of so many gatherings as this epically bad advice.


The impulse not to make waves is as old as humanity, and formal injunctions against letting controversy into one’s gatherings date back at least to 1723. At the time, the Freemasons were a burgeoning secret society, and one of their members, the Reverend James Anderson, drafted the first constitution for the Premier Grand Lodge of England. This document explicitly forbade “doing or saying anything offensive, or that may forbid an easy and free Conversation, for that would blast our Harmony, and defeat our laudable Purposes.” The Freemasons had taken up and promoted an idea that would become an erroneous touchstone for gatherers: that the airing of differences can do no good, that harmony is made never to be broken.


More than 150 years later, in 1880, Thomas Edie Hill showed the continued vitality of this thinking with advice printed in his book Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms: “Do not discuss politics or religion in general company. You probably would not convert your opponent, and he will not convert you. To discuss those topics is to arouse feeling without any good result.” In 1922, Emily Post, in her book Etiquette, gave the advice her own twist, counseling the avoidance of all negativity. “Talk about things which you think will be agreeable to your hearer,” she wrote. “Don’t dilate on ills, misfortune, or other unpleasantnesses. The one in greatest danger of making enemies is the man or woman of brilliant wit.”


And you wonder why so many gatherings are time-wasting and yawn-inducing.

The advice continues into today, thriving in the media and online people-to-people advice forums. On a Quora thread titled “Why is it considered rude to discuss sex, politics, and religion?” a woman who claims to have read etiquette guides “since age 6” wrote: “The goal of etiquette is to make people feel welcome and comfortable. So why look for fights?” An essay on the career website Glassdoor warns of the politics-sex-religion unholy trinity: “Before you make the potentially career-endangering mistake, here is why you should stay away from all three topics in the workplace.”


The funny thing about this advice is that it is followed nowadays even by people who do not think they are following it. Many gatherers obey its spirit even if they do not agree with the letter, making choices that elevate harmony in gathering over controversy. Universities whose founding purpose was dispute and argument now regularly rescind invitations to speakers whom some students deem too controversial and out of line. Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under George W. Bush, had to withdraw from giving the commencement speech at Rutgers University because of student protest, as did Christine Lagarde, who runs the International Monetary Fund, from an address to Smith College. Michelle Obama, the former first lady, eloquently weighed in and encouraged students to “run to, and not away from, the noise.” (Presumably, not the kind of noise that was generated at Middlebury College when the sociologist Charles Murray came to speak and students physically barred him from entering the building to which he had been invited, injuring his host, a female professor, in the process.)


It’s not only campuses. Virtually every conference or industry gathering I have attended features panels, and virtually every panel I have ever seen is dull. The people who pick the panel topics pick the blandest ideas they can find—something about collaboration or partnership, prosperity or building bridges, new horizons or growth. In this they follow the Freemasons’ mantra of avoiding what would “blast our Harmony.” When they select moderators, they seem to pick people trained in the Emily Post tradition of smoothing things over and preventing the eruption of “unpleasantnesses.” When was the last time you heard a panel moderator ask a tough question instead of tossing softballs? When was the last time you saw a couple of panelists truly argue about something worth arguing about? The panel, like the university, is a venue that prides itself on being about debate, when in fact it has given in to the dogma that controversy must be avoided at any cost.


When I work with clients, they often tell me they want to do a “town hall” to air opinions and get people to speak their truth. Then the day comes, and if I haven’t managed to wrest control over the event, the town hall is used to recirculate the old platitudes, to reassure those in charge about the wisdom of their rule, to keep everything exactly as it is. When I challenge the organizers, they often tell me that it’s too risky to introduce controversy in a group setting.


So how do we create gatherings that can hold some heat without burning up in flames? How do we cause, and have the group benefit from, good controversy?

CAGE MATCHES AREN’T JUST FOR WRESTLERS

Sometimes, the elevation of harmony over everything else merely makes a gathering dull. Often, though, it is worse than that: The goal of harmony burrows its way into the core of the gathering and becomes a kind of pretender purpose, hampering the very thing the gathering was supposed to be about. That was what happened at a very polite architecture firm I worked with.


“Priya, we need more heat,” my client whispered nervously in my ear.


He was watching what had been planned and billed as a contentious conversation about the future of his firm slip into a polite, cheerful discussion. I was facilitating a gathering for a team of architects to think about their firm’s long-term vision. We had spent the morning imagining radical future scenarios, like a world where no new buildings were needed, or one in which their largest client was the Catholic Church, or one in which they had become a subscription service. These provocative prompts were purposefully designed to create a conversation that got to the heart of the question they were debating: Did they want to remain a bricks-and-mortar architecture firm, or did they want to morph into an experience-design firm?


There was serious disagreement in the room on that question, which is why they asked me to orchestrate the gathering. But as the conversation got under way, you wouldn’t know it. Everyone around the table was smiling, friendly, and polite. Each time a partner would go out on a limb and dip a toe into the underlying controversy, she would quickly withdraw.


I tried to redirect the group to what divided rather than united them. “Let’s get back to Anne’s point,” I’d suggest. But they were a sophisticated group and were well practiced at what I realized was one of the firm’s dominant norms: avoiding anything that could stir the pot. The emotions I knew to be in the room were not surfacing. I knew that I would soon have to try a new approach, lest the whole meeting come to nothing.


So with the help of my extremely open-minded client, an executive who was not an architect himself but worked for them, we began to scheme at lunch, while everyone was away. In their absence, he and I restructured the room, gathered some towels, and located some Rocky music on YouTube. We were preparing for a cage match.


When the architects returned, they found two giant posters. One extolled a character called the Brain, the other a character called the Body. Each poster featured an actual wrestler’s body, onto which one of the architects’ heads had been hastily photoshopped. We had chosen two architects we knew to be charismatic, playful, and eloquent. Both of them immediately erupted in laughter when they saw what we had put up. We built on their surprise and didn’t give them much of a chance to think.


I jumped into the middle of the crowd and announced that there was now going to be a cage match. I laid out the rules: In Round 1, each wrestler would be given three minutes to make the strongest argument for his side. The Body would have to argue why the firm should absolutely remain focused on the physical, on bricks-and-mortar architecture, on building buildings, for the next hundred years. The Brain would have to make the case for becoming a design firm, an increasingly popular if ethereal creature that took on jobs like crafting the signage within a hospital or organizing the flow of processes in an airport but didn’t necessarily build things. It was a choice between moving with the times and sticking to their core talent.


I wasn’t sure if people would go for it, and I could see the architects trying to figure out whether their colleagues were going to engage or not. I kept my own energy up and my voice confident, trying to push past their hesitancy.


Each “wrestler” was then assigned a coach, who was a member of the organizing team, and given a small white towel. Each coach stood behind his or her player and started massaging shoulders and whispering advice. Both men started rolling their heads around as if they were actually preparing for a fight. Nobody knew yet what exactly we meant by a “cage match.” Were they actually going to physically fight? What the hell was going on?


I now told the rest of the group their role. They would have to listen to each fighter’s argument and choose the side they were most convinced by. Then I added the most important rule for the audience: They could not stay neutral; they had to pick a wrestler to back. After every round, there would be a five-minute period in which the wrestlers could receive advice on their next round of argument. In Round 2, each wrestler would have another three minutes to make the next iteration of his case.


I egged the crowd on to make some noise—cheering and jeering were encouraged—to help the wrestlers feel the crowd’s support. Once Round 2 was complete, the crowd would have the chance to make their final, updated decision on whom to stand behind. Everyone must choose a side, I repeated, because I knew this group had a tendency to blur distinctions. In the end, three independent judges (the executive assistants, who were in the room for administrative support), would make the final call on who won this Rumble in the Architecture Jungle.


Everyone began to talk excitedly among themselves. When we put the Rocky song on, people started to laugh, and the Body stood up and started gesticulating toward the Brain, playfully jeering at him. We were off. For the next twenty minutes, thanks to the willingness of the two wrestler-architects, this stuffy, buttoned-up, conservative, genteel group barked, hissed, laughed, taunted, and listened as two architects made two strong, interesting, sharp, and radically different cases for two very different futures. When certain architects were waffling, trying to claim a spot between the two fighters, it was their previously polite peers who called them out: “You have to choose!” The match was confrontational, heated, and argumentative, and it was exactly what we needed.


If you must know, the Body won.


The group was suffering from what many of us suffer from: a well-meaning desire not to offend that devolves into a habit of saying nothing that matters. They were not getting ideas out into the open. Because of this, they couldn’t have a rich and honest dialogue, air their very real differences, and make an important decision together that they would stand by. And by avoiding what truly mattered to them in the name of not ruffling feathers, they were evading the questions they most cared about answering. They were kicking down the road the issue of their own future, as individuals and as a firm.


In so many gatherings, we are so afraid of getting burned that we avoid heat altogether. There is always risk inherent in controversy, because things can go very wrong very quickly. But in avoiding it, we waste countless opportunities to truly connect with others about the things they care about. The responsible harnessing of good controversy—handling with structure and care what we normally avoid—is one of the most difficult, complicated, and important duties for a gatherer. When it is done well, it is also one of the most transformative.

GOOD CONTROVERSY DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN

What, you might ask, is “good controversy”?


Good controversy is the kind of contention that helps people look more closely at what they care about, when there is danger but also real benefit in doing so. To embrace good controversy is to embrace the idea that harmony is not necessarily the highest, and certainly not the only, value in a gathering. Good controversy helps us re-examine what we hold dear: our values, priorities, nonnegotiables. Good controversy is generative rather than preservationist. It leads to something better than the status quo. It helps communities move forward in their thinking. It helps us grow. Good controversy can be messy in the midst of the brawling. But when it works, it is clarifying and cleansing—and a forceful antidote to bullshit.


In my experience, though, good controversy rarely happens on its own. It needs to be designed for and given structure. Because, almost by definition, controversy arises from what people care enough about to argue over, most gatherings are marred either by unhealthy peace or by unhealthy heat. Either no one is really saying anything that they actually think, or you end up with what I call the “Thanksgiving problem”: a total free-for-all of pent-up grievances that often brings out tears and a screaming match, culminating in your cousin’s announcement that he will be attending his “Friendsgiving” back home from now on. Good controversy is much more likely to happen when it is invited in but carefully structured.


One way to achieve that structuring at your gathering is to do what we did with the cage match: We moved the controversy from implicit to explicit by ritualizing it. We created a temporary alternative world within the larger gathering, a wrestling match that allowed the controversy to be litigated in a way that was honest and aired feelings without being bridge-burning. We borrowed from an earlier chapter’s idea of pop-up rules, and made the whole thing playful. The purpose of a cage match is, after all, to fight. If there was no way they would debate within the context and norms of their everyday collegiality, we had to change that context and those norms temporarily. To do that safely, we turned to ritual.


This is what the organization DoSomething.org does when it hosts its annual Social Good cage fight. (Promotional poster: “Watch industry leaders duke it out on some of the sauciest topics in the nonprofit sector like: One organization can’t claim to own an entire movement—Volunteering abroad perpetuates the white savior complex—Social Media campaigns are just another form of slacktivism—‘Raising awareness’ doesn’t do sh*t.”) They take topics that are taboo within the “social good” field and move them front and center for the audience (and speakers) to examine openly.


Many societies have their own versions of cage matches, using ritual to carve out a space for conflict and controversy (and therefore removing conflict and controversy from other spaces). Every year in Chumbivilcas Province, Peru, villagers mark Christmas—the birthday of the Prince of Peace—by gathering to beat one another up. In this region, which lacks a reliable judiciary, the fighting has evolved as a way of airing and resolving disputes before the year flickers out. In Chumbivilcas, January must begin with a clean slate. In the South African village of Tshifudi, Venda men gather regularly for a wrestling tradition called musangwe, where they fight in part to sort out and relieve the tension around lingering disputes. Tshilidzi Ndevana, a fifty-six-year-old teacher and father who is also the president of musangwe and goes by the wrestling name Poison, told The New York Times: “If there is a problem in the community, if people are fighting, we tell them: ‘Wait. Don’t quarrel. We will bring it to musangwe and sort it out there.’”


The cult film Fight Club captures the generalized feeling among thirtysomething men in America in the late 1990s that they were losing their masculinity. Fight Club depicts a Saturday-night ritual: an underground gathering that serves as a release for these men. It’s a gathering where they don’t have to “be a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct,” as one character puts it. Fight Club is an embodiment of all that modern men are not supposed to do during their day jobs and home lives: fight, be aggressive, feel pain, cause pain. Fight Club borrows from an age-old idea of dealing with the more dangerous aspects of ourselves by separating them from everyday life and creating a space to safely release that darker energy. And in each of these varied forms of fight clubs, there are strict rules and practices and rituals, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yes, these are physical fight clubs, but they’re doing what our little cage match was trying to do: bringing conflict out into the open, in a safe, regulated, constructive way.


As you think about your own gatherings, ritualized controversy may sometimes make sense. I will be the first one to tell you it is not for every event. In many cases, doing something out of the ordinary isn’t a great idea. Sometimes the key to safely bringing in generous heat is to identify the hot spots in a group and then simply organize the conversation around them, protected by some ground rules. This was my approach to a gathering I facilitated among a dozen or so leaders working on one of the most politically divisive issues of our time.

HEAT MAPS, SAFE SPACES, AND GROUND RULES

I received a phone call out of the blue one day, asking if I would facilitate a meeting in the U.K. that no one wanted to attend. It was a gathering of a dozen major civic leaders in Europe, all of whom worked on the same hot-button issue, but from radically different angles. The leaders were, technically, on the same side of the issue, but they had among themselves a long, complicated history and a lot of internal politics. They were being convened to reflect on a global project they had collaborated on, which was largely seen as a bust. But no one, I was told, was willing to admit it was a bust, at least not to one another. I had three weeks to figure out how to run the meeting.


The organizers were ambivalent as to whether it would be better to be polite and go through the motions of feigning agreement, or whether they should take off the lid and try to sort out some of the deeper contentious issues—both interpersonal and strategic. On the one hand, they figured it might be better to pretend everything is fine to keep the coalition together. On the other hand, they hadn’t been particularly successful in achieving their overall mission, and maybe it was time to let things hang out. I was new to this domain and didn’t know the players. So I began where I begin any attempt to cause good controversy: I made a heat map.


In almost any group of people—including strangers—certain areas of conversation will generate more heat than others. This heat can arise from conflict, taboos, transgression, power differences, hypocrisy, identity clashes, etc. Part of my job is to figure out the sources of potential heat and then decide what to do with them. In a church, a source of heat may be the issue of gay marriage within the congregation, but it could also be how tithes and collections are spent. In a newsroom, the heat may come from what stories get best placement on the front page and on the paper’s website, but it could also be about expected layoffs that have yet to be announced. In a university administration, a source of heat may be the treatment of legacy applicants or the renaming of buildings. Issues have heat when they affect or threaten people’s fears, needs, and sense of self. And when they poke at a source of power. Touching on these elements with care can produce transformative gatherings, because you can dig below the typical conversation into the bedrock of values.


To address these areas of heat, you need to know where they are. Thus you make a heat map. You can do this by asking yourself (and others) the following questions: What are people avoiding that they don’t think they’re avoiding? What are the sacred cows here? What goes unsaid? What are we trying to protect? And why?


In the case of the architecture firm, I had learned through a number of one-on-one interviews and conversations ahead of the gathering that the heat they most needed to face was around their identity: Who did they want to be in the future? In the case of this political meeting, I set out to do the same. What were their hot spots, and which of those were worth broaching? I got to work.


I first interviewed every leader by phone. I tried to build trust and a rapport with each of them, and I dug into their sense of what was not working and what they thought the core issues were. Two ideas emerged: First, a fundamental disagreement about whether the core problem was within the cause itself, among the players who would be at the gathering, or between the cause as a whole and those who opposed the cause. Second, there was a massive power imbalance because of differences in size, resources, and public recognition among the partners’ organizations that affected all of their interactions.


Not surprisingly, the organizations with less influence were more upset about how things were going than the organizations with more influence. But almost all this dissatisfaction was coming out in proxy wars: battles over language on pamphlets, over the sharing of data, over who gets to stand on a dais or which country’s newspapers to publish in. Yet because each of these seemingly small group decisions symbolized larger issues for many in the group, they mattered.


After these initial phone calls, I created a digital workbook in which I asked questions to continue the process of naming what participants believed were the core issues. I asked them all to fill out the workbook ahead of time and return it to me, and told them that their answers would be read aloud in the room, anonymously. Unlike the phone calls, which were confidential, they were now answering these questions knowing that they would be shared, if untraceably. By making this transition, I introduced the next level of risk into the process. The workbook included prompts about participants’ personal history, to get them to connect back to their own core values: “Tell me about a moment in your early life that deeply influenced you and, in some way perhaps, led you to the work you do today.” But the majority of the questions encouraged the leaders to speak about what wasn’t working: “If you were to say something that was politically incorrect, or taboo, about this process or project, what would it be?” It asked: “What do you think is the most needed conversation for this group to have now?”


They each took the time to fill out the workbook and, fortunately, they were open and honest. I had what I needed to bring their voices and concerns into the room and host a conversation, not a cage match, that I hoped would nurture good controversy.


Me being me, I insisted that we first do a dinner the night before. I didn’t want to walk into this meeting and dive into the controversy. I wanted to warm them up. We hosted a 15 Toasts dinner with the leaders and chose the theme of conflict. I wanted to normalize the word and show that there was some light in it. At first, people seemed confused by the theme, but before too long the toasts started rolling in. (A lot of people did not want to sing.) The toasts progressed through the night, and what they began to demonstrate was that there are all kinds of conflicts: within families and between friends, though the one that most resonated with people was of a different kind: inner conflict. A number of toasts exposed sides of these leaders that we hadn’t known before. That was a vital lesson. More important for the next day’s gathering, it was a reminder that they were complicated, multifaceted people who didn’t have everything worked out. And that good conflict could lead them somewhere new.


The day of the gathering, I decided I would frame the entire day as a one-group conversation. It was rare for all these busy leaders to be in the same region, let alone one room, and part of their dynamic was that their most honest conversations as a group tended to be offline or in sidebars. I wanted to see if they could build the muscle to talk openly and rigorously about what was facing them.


To do this, I began the day by setting ground rules. I asked the following questions:


What do you need to feel safe here?


What do you need from this group to be willing to take a risk in this conversation today?


Spending the time asking such questions helps further prime your guests to take chances in the conversation and to listen more deeply than they otherwise might. Getting them to participate in creating the rules, as opposed to just presenting the rules myself, is also a way to begin naming and acknowledging past behaviors at some of their meetings that served to shut people down—behaviors now inspiring the suggestion of new rules to foster new behaviors. It also lends a legitimacy to the rules. It lets the facilitator say: “These are the rules you said you wanted.”


After creating those ground rules, I engaged in my second act of naming: I began by reading aloud from the workbooks. I had organized my excerpts by question and theme and anonymized them as thoroughly as I could. I began reading out people’s personal stories. As often happens, many of the participants had shared powerful stories from early in their lives that the others had never heard. These stories reminded all of us of the feeling with which we had left the previous night’s dinner. It helped draw a thread back to that sensation. Though they had answered a range of questions, I spent a disproportionate amount of time reading their answers on the questions about taboos. I had given each participant a Post-it pad and pen and asked them to capture any words and phrases they heard that struck them. As I spoke, I noticed that people were busy writing as fast as they could. It gave them something to do and would help them remember these phrases.


Once I was done reading, I looked up. The leaders were sitting straight up, paying full attention. A few of them had funny looks on their faces. Without saying anything more, I invited each one to share two phrases they had written down. This was yet more naming. Within twenty minutes, what had never really been said out loud in this community was buzzing in everyone’s ears. A number of phrases were repeated by different members, thereby showing resonance within the group. It was the ripping off of a Band-Aid. Rather than trying to get there over the course of a conversation, we began with it all on the table. Only ninety minutes had passed, and there was a palpable sense of both expectation and relief in the room.


The rest of the day was organized around the taboos that most resonated with them. We spent the day getting their assumptions out in front of one another. I used all my tricks to guide their conversation over the next six hours. We’d gather for ninety-minute sessions at a time and then break, gather again and break. We worked through lunch. When some people began to dominate the conversation, I would pause them, pointing to a ground rule if need be, and try to bring in the quieter folks. When tension arose between two participants about a relevant topic, rather than cool it down, if I believed it was relevant to the group, I would have them lean into it. At one point, a specific past incident between two people arose. One of them said something like “It’s OK, we can talk about it offline.” But another member of the group (not in that pair) pointed out that the incident actually reflected a dynamic that existed among a number of them, and she thought it would be helpful for the group as a whole to discuss. Others agreed, and I facilitated the pair through their issue in front of everyone else.


I repeatedly urged the group to go below the surface, into the assumptions beneath what they were talking about. When things would get heated, I would slow them down and try to help them go “below the iceberg.” Rather than looking at the specific incidents and events above the water line, I would ask them how those moments revealed their underlying beliefs, values, and needs. I would try to make what they were saying more hearable to everyone else. So that even if they didn’t agree, they understood.


Throughout the day, I was building their muscle as a group to collectively witness one another, not just through being polite but, as in the case with the cage match, through having good controversy. I continued, at various moments, to check in with the group and with individuals to see how they were doing. When they needed a break, we took a break. The day was punctuated with laughter as much as with tension. Often within the same moment. At one point, a newer member of the group expressed worry about the direction of the conversation. She said something like “Why are we spending time looking at all of this negative stuff? I think this is very unproductive.” I paused. I didn’t defend. I waited. At that moment an older leader looked at her kindly and said something along the lines of “Oh no, this is a breakthrough. In twenty-five years, we have never had this conversation.”


By confronting the heat, the participants began to see glimpses of alternative, more productive ways of interacting with one another. They became clearer on where it made sense to collaborate and where it didn’t. They also got a lot off their chests.


As the day continued, I noticed a number of participants taking more risks. They would voice to the group what they had written in the workbooks. They would say out loud what they had told me on the phone in confidence. At the end of the day, they agreed as a group to continue to meet to pursue these conversations in greater depth. It was a step forward.

WHAT IS THE GIFT? WHAT IS THE RISK?

Seeking the heat in any gathering is inherently risky. When you can put some process or structure around that heat-seeking, though, there is a chance for real benefit. Still, that doesn’t mean heat-seeking should be part of every gathering. I bring good controversy to a gathering only when I believe some good can come out of it—enough good to outweigh the risks and harm. For your gatherings, you should make a similar assessment.


In the course of researching this book, I met a woman named Ida Benedetto who creates secret, underground gatherings that help guests safely take risks they wouldn’t normally take. Benedetto and her partner N. D. Austin are self-described “transgression consultants” and cofounders of a design practice called Sextantworks. They were behind gatherings like the Night Heron, a New York speakeasy housed illegally in a water tower. Benedetto and Austin are also the creators of a fake conference called the Timothy Convention, an annual, flash-mob-like gathering at the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. At this “convention,” one hundred strangers dressed in black tie descend on the hotel and have to complete “harmless transgressive acts,” such as “Deliver room service to a hotel guest,” “Wear a robe in an unlikely place,” “Acquire Waldorf cutlery for your entire team,” “Collect two business cards from hotel guests,” and take a “team photo in the maid’s closet.” Benedetto and Austin have been described as “New York’s wildest underground event planners,” and their events as nights “you’ll never forget.”


Though these gatherings might appear to be frivolous, Benedetto is driven by something deeper. Before every gathering she creates, she asks herself two questions: What is the gift? And what is the risk? She thinks of each of her gatherings as fulfilling a specific need for a specific group of people. But for that gift to be given, she has learned, there needs to be some amount of risk. “No true gift is free of risk,” Benedetto told me. She defines risk as “a threat to one’s current state that could destabilize the way things are.” The risk is what allows for the possibility of the gift.


In Benedetto’s gatherings, the risks are often legal and physical: trespassing and entering abandoned buildings. But they can also be psychological: Each Timothy Convention is designed around breaking a small taboo or social norm. In fact, the entire gathering is designed to help people “cross boundaries” and “transform their relationship to the city” by changing what they assumed to be out of bounds to them.


In the same way, should you decide to bring some good controversy to your next gathering, you can benefit from asking yourself Benedetto’s questions: What is the gift in broaching this issue? And what is the risk? Is it worth it? And can we handle it with care?










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