In a time of political debate and dissension, one local retirement community is breaking the mold to cultivate respectful conversation on topics that matter the most.
Residents on the Spiritual Life Committee at Holly Creek spearheaded Conversations That Matter), a discussion-based forum to foster connection and meaningful conversation between the community’s neighbors. Interested participants are randomly placed in groups of at least seven and meet twice a month for an hour at a time to talk about topics of interest. Facilitators are chosen to provide initial topics and help guide conversation when needed.
“Because it is such a new concept, we lay down some ground rules,” explained one of CTM’s facilitators, Holly Creek resident Jim Hankins. “There’s no room for ‘I’m right, and you’re wrong.’ We’re here to discuss and learn from each other.”
Key ground rules include talking only about topics agreed upon by all members and not sharing anything said in group with others outside of it.
“We stress confidentiality. Trust is so key,” adds Carol Furuta, the chair of Holly Creek’s Spiritual Life Committee that oversees Conversations that Matter. “And we ask everyone to be willing to participate.”
The result is a dynamic and safe space for discussion on topics that run the gamut from travel experiences and cultural backgrounds to more current and serious issues, such as the Ukraine War and immigration.
Dolores Meader, former facilitator of her current CTM group, shared how they took one meeting to trace and share each person’s own personal cultural histories. The 8-9 group members discovered that they represented fifteen different countries. “It really was an eye-opener and shifted my own perspective on the current topic of immigration. We all came from immigrant families, too.”
Discussing issues with others of various backgrounds and opinions has expanded and shaped the perspectives of those involved. And perhaps more importantly, it has crafted a culture of mutual respect for those who hold different views.
“I grew up in a small community of people,” explained CTM facilitator Henrietta Smith. “Being at Holly Creek in general, and specifically in a Conversations That Matter group has helped me hear and learn from very different perspectives and backgrounds, without the negative comments and repercussions that can come from sharing candidly. It has built mutual respect and allowed us to discuss things we never otherwise would. It has given me a broader view of life.”
This is particularly notable when it comes to the current political climate.
“In some groups, the political views are clearly different,” Hankins explained. “But we all value each other’s perspectives, which has become key in a time that is super politically charged.”
Meader mentioned that this was one area in which she has grown through her own participation. “I have respect for everyone in my group, regardless of what they believe politically.”
Thanks to this deep respect and trust, many CTM groups have also become a safe place for participants to process life and loss.
“When someone shares about a hardship, like the loss of a spouse, the rest of the group is able to help by sharing from their own, differing experiences,” explained Hankins. “And we learn from the experience of processing our own losses.”
CTM began with four groups when it was launched two years ago. Now it has six groups that still include most of the original group members. Many of the facilitators have successfully turned over their guidance duties, allowing their groups to keep the conversations humming. Possible upcoming discussion topics include gratitude, with Thanksgiving in mind.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, Furuta already knows one thing she is thankful for – the people in her CTM group. “I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve made seven wonderful friends that I never otherwise would have known at this depth.”