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Many thanks to the members of the Ben Franklin Circle in Ojai CA who wrote this profile of their Circle together. When asked what prompted that approach, Host Michele Houghtaling said, “the magic comes from the whole group”. We were delighted with the idea and with the outcome.


Hometown: Ojai, CA

Start Date: October 2018
Host: Michele Houghtaling


What do you all do when you’re not participating in a Ben Franklin Circle?

We are based in Ojai, CA, a unique small town in a valley surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest. Ojai, with its orange and avocado groves and artists, is well known for its spiritual feel and calm energy. We’re all seniors either retired or semi-retired. We support our local Help of Ojai, the state-wide housing authority as well as our homeowners association, a church, our Woman’s Club, and land conservation group. We may help our community in the future by working on voter registration and restorative justice. We pursue bucket list items such as travel, classical guitar, watercolor painting, woodworking, and bridge.  


What attracted you to the Circles?

The opportunity to discuss Ben’s virtues and relate them to today’s world was attractive. Some of us like to think about philosophical issues, others are interested in what is going on socially and politically but the main draw may have been the opportunity to share at a deeper level than would ordinarily have been the case. The circle has been the conduit to finding and knowing kindred spirits; it’s been nurturing, comfortable and refreshing – not to mention the intellectual stimulation. 


Tell us a little about the composition of your group? How did you find members or how did they find you?

Most of us live in the senior mobile home park where we meet, but we do have a few lovely outsiders – one of which is our token male whom we all deeply appreciate. Word of mouth to friends and neighbors has played a big role in our growth. Some of us were not that well acquainted with each other before joining the group. Another member, who’d recently relocated, was in a BFC in Washington, D.C. and asked to join us, and we’re so glad she did. Basically, we’re all just thinking people who like to share the good and the bad of the society – local and national – that we live in. We’re now a pretty tight little group of 12+ members open to new faces as long as they adhere to the ground rules we agreed upon at the outset.


How has participating in a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?

We are all better for it, and leave each meeting feeling refreshed and having learned new things. We’ve become more aware of ways that we can bring peace to our lives (we’re part of the exhausted majority in this country), and thereby to our neighborhood. Basically, we don’t feel alone. We feel grateful to be included in a circle – with fine thoughtful people who reflect on a deep and personal level – that we might not have known otherwise. On the last Monday of the month, we know it’s time for us to just listen, ponder and share. We look forward to this time each month.


Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?


Frugality was the choice of several members. We actually had two sessions on this virtue, after we realized that frugality doesn’t just apply to money. We discovered that frugality applies to how we spend our time and what we focus our attention on. Listening to the news – and our emotional reactions to it – changed dramatically. 

Silence and Sincerity were also favorites. One member – a meditator for over 40 years – loved this reminder to plug silence in more often, to make a conscious choice to step out of the swamp of media noise. Sincerity was surprising. Without sincerity, we aren’t even dealing with our true selves and discussion runs thin. To do this, we need to be authentic. We all thought we were sincere but nevertheless we made our commitment for the month to talk with someone with an opposite point of view and really listen. The results were impactful.

Justice resulted in most of us learning for the first time about “restorative justice”, and our local school board’s actions in this direction.

Resolution helped with a lifetime of battling with procrastination, and Order resulted in clean windows and a feeling of satisfaction. 




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