—-To my teachers in a humble disguise, from a chat on a train journey last week.
Man in black and red: What do you do?
I: I am a researcher.
Man with tattoos: What do you research?
I: Social things.
Man in black and red [lifting his eyebrows: Social things? [smiles]
Tattooed man, cheerful: Will you research us?
I: I can, you seem quite social to me [smile in return].
Man in black and red: What matters to you?
I: Love [I smile apologetically].
Man in black and red: That’s a big word!
Tattooed man: Ooh, a big word!
I: Is it? It’s just a four letter word. [make a gesture with the right hand showing how small are four-lettered words] What matters to you?
Tattooed man: Friendship matters. He is my best friend [points out to the cycling man sitting next to me] and we have travelled a long distance from the North to get together, and to go even further distance to visit other friends.
Man in black and red: We are also visiting his sister.
Tattooed man: Yes, and to visit my sister. And you see, friendship is not a big word – it’s about things like this – making the time to get together, finding the ways.
Man in black and red [in a deep thought]: See, love is a big word. What matters is today. Tomorrow may never come. Don’t get me wrong – I think about the future, but what matters is today. And everything that comes with it. [speaks of his children and wife, what women do and what man do, about the children ‘you care to have’ and the children ‘to care about’ and ‘to secure your future as a human being’. The tattooed man speaks about their work as drivers, how it connects to freedom, and freedom to his separation with his girlfriend]
I [surprised a bit]: But what you describe is love?
Man in black and red: Yes, affection goes with all that. [points out to his friend] It’s the look with care when you look into the eyes of your best friend that matters [….] see, for the Amazon tribes…outside of civilisation, the people in the tribe…they don’t think and speak about love. They just relate to each other and look after each other. Men do their things, women do their things, and they have children together to secure the future.
I: What I hear you say is that these big words – like love – were invented by the civilised world because we no longer do these little things much, so we have invented big words for the little things, like looking with care at your friend.
Man in black and red: What do you write? What was your last paper about?
I [suddenly getting anxious they may not understand]: My paper…it is about thinking [smiling apologetically again, thinking that it will be too complicated to explain thinking in reflective spaces].
Man in black and red [gets excited, seems this make sense to him]: About thinking? You mean, ‘the thought process’?
I [still anxious]: Kind of… I mean what makes thinking ‘thinking’. You know, sometimes we think that we think, but it’s just keeping our minds busy – more of a non-stop noise in the mind than actual thinking. You see, people like me, who are supposed to think, often can’t do this because of the many pressures on them. And people like you, who don’t have to do it for a job, do think and do think quite well. When you were speaking about your job as drivers, it seemed that if you feel like thinking, you just do think. If you don’t want to, you can do something else. But you tell me – what makes you think?
Tattooed man [joking]: Me? Drinking…
I [laughing]: That’s a good one, you know – people do think better in pubs. These are good places for thinking. And you? You seem to be thinking a lot.
Man in black and red [has been in a quiet contemplation for a while]: Hm, the thought process… Now, tell me this, if you have a group of people who have to find a solution to some problem or something, how do you make them get there?
I [smiling but not apologetically anymore]: You got me now! That’s exactly what the paper was about. You tell me, what would make the people in such a group think?
Man in black and red: hmmm, what would make them think…I think it is this – you need someone there who is…who is quite outgoing, and who can…You see, you need a conductor, who can gather their thoughts together. This is it – you need a conductor who can understand them and pull the group forward.
I: Oh, it’s your station. Don’t go – you have more to say [half joking, half serious]. Can I write about our chat?
[tattooed man waves generously, but both seem a bit nervous, we shake hands and off they go…]
The purpose of The Tavistock Institute Action Learning Space is to open spaces for comprehending and staying with meaningful and sometimes difficult questions. It gathers long used social science methodologies to help people and organisations find joy in being and doing things and if needed to come unstuck. The Action Learning Space is therefore for those, who have mastered their professions. It polishes their ability to navigate and lead in their communities and organisations and to move to the place they belong in communities and organisations.
In the recording of this first Lunchtime Talk of 2016 Milena Stateva explored with guests what it means to be a member, to convene and to nurture such a space and a range of meanings of a group, such as:
- what Bion called ‘a storm between minds’ and how this storm nourishes selves in a role, organisations and communities;
- the group as the home and the guide to moral questions;
- the group as a gate to creativity and receptivity that bridges the contemporary doer/thinker divide.
The conversation above is an example of how unofficial settings may provide even more fertile ground for making sense of what it means to be and do in the contemporary context. These two, rather different contexts and conversations, have in common the trust in everyone’s contribution and what difference it makes for people to know they are good – in whatever sense we would like to consider ‘being good’.
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