The phrase “new normal” seems to abound at the present time as we recognise how much things have changed as a result of the months of lock down, we have all experienced. Some of the reflections I hear are about a new appreciation of the value of things we may have taken for granted and the gift of stillness and slowing down. Other voices are more wistful with a sense of uncertainty and even loss in being unsure whether treasured ways of being will ever be recovered. Others still have been wrestling in unasked for solitude with the pain of loss that is not going to heal easily. So “new normal” is a phrase we need to approach with both gentleness and courage in finding how we walk the next stage of the road ahead of us.
CCiC is rooted in people being gathered in newly created safe space to share in gentle conversation where the only purpose is to enable those participating to grow in themselves. So, words like “lockdown” and “social distancing” initially seemed to cast some doubt about how the initiative could continue in a climate of isolation. However, the last few months have been a surprising journey of exploration and new insight that has shed new light on what we are trying to achieve in the CCiC project.
We have to confess to a slight smugness in that CCiC had been using Zoom for quite some time before lockdown saw many people flocking to a new medium for communication, and it has been fascinating being part of the discovery of a new way of engaging in conversation. At the start, perhaps inevitably, the cry was that it was clunky and distant and would only ever be a poor substitute for proper face to face conversation. And yet as the old saying says “necessity is the mother of invention” and without the option of meeting face to face we all had to get on with it. As families used it to breach the barriers of social isolation there was both glee at the connection and sadness at the limitations such communication brings, but it was and is a lifeline for many. Others become slightly obsessed with the medium and we regularly hear of people with daily schedules packed with Zoom meetings to try and get everything done they did before. Others tell of stories of online meetings with so many people present in little boxes on the screen that the verbal cacophony leads to confusion and the foundations of a serious headache!
But, it has also been important to watch how the mechanics of conversation has become part of our collective learning and it has been fascinating to watch this emerge. Some of the discussions about Zoom have opened up some real learning points. “Talking on Zoom is difficult because there isn’t space for me to be included and I don’t know how to be heard”. Many of us will have seen that happen in recent months in awkward exchanges, but how many of us have felt just like that in meetings and groups gathered in a room? Without paying attention to how we decide we will be together; the dynamics of exclusion can be experienced both online and face to face equally. “Talking on Zoom can be difficult because people talk over each other and don’t listen to each other”. Many of the online conversations started off being characterised by clunky exchanges and bullish voices dominating perhaps I might dare to say, in the same way they do in settings many of us have experienced over the years. What has been equally interesting has been some of the responses within those conversations. One woman said, “Sometimes I close my video and go off and make a cup of tea and nobody knows!” discovering a degree of control over her experience of conversation that she didn’t have before. So, Zoom is no panacea and perhaps even exacerbates some of the problems that can exist within “normal” conversations.
So, do we go back to the old normal ways of doing things with relief, or seek a “new normal” shaped out of what we have learned?
One of the strands of CCiC that has emerged in recent months has been a weekly Zoom gathering on Wednesday evenings, to sustain communication and community which has been a joy to be part of. It has gone from being a gathering to reassure each other, to being a growing community of people who want to talk and share in conversation about things that matter about faith and spirituality (last night there were 16 of us). But it has been important to learn as we go and strangely, I think we have learned some good lessons about our conversations that need to feed into whatever the “new normal":
Our conversations have needed someone to facilitate the ebb and flow of our interactions. Not to lead, nor to shape and certainly not to control, but to see with open eyes and to hold on to good intentions we have of trying to create a safe and inclusive space.
Our conversations rest in a mutual desire and intention to be civil with each other. That sounds obvious, but believe me, it is not in too many settings. We sign up to civil conversations.
Our conversations need us to own up to our own contributions to the conversation, both in terms of how we impact others, and in being honest when others impact on us. This is far from easy online and it can be painful and uncomfortable, but there is an honesty and self-awareness that we need to learn to explore in the “new normal”.
Our conversations can’t have the same flow as a face to face conversation so we need to learn how to ask good questions of each other that move the conversation on and open it up rather than closing it down. A new way of being together takes effort.
There is much for us to explore in this.
As we reflect on this, and some of the conversations that we have engaged with, listening to people being brave about doubt and uncertainty, but needing space to just be themselves without expectation or judgment there is much to learn. Subjects as diverse as “what is the Gospel” to “the purpose of evangelism” create live and engaged conversation.
We had one critic level an accusation at the project saying “that is all far too liberal for me” which made us reflect on why some find it a difficult process. One dictionary definition of the word “liberal” is “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one's own; open to new ideas”. In that light the project is proud to be a liberal exploration of the ground of faith seeking understanding.
Two quotations come to mind as we look to the future of a “new normal”.
“What a liberating thing to realize that our problems are probably our richest sources for rising to the ultimate virtue of compassion”.
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”
We will continue to journey together on the road we make by walking towards a new vision of our future.