Circle Host Caroline Sayre shares her reflections on the experience of starting and hosting a BFC.
I found out about the Ben Franklin Circles in the April 8, 2018 issue of the New Yorker. The first paragraph of the article (“Ben Franklin Invented The Chat Room,”) caught my eye: ‘‘The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company,’ Franklin wrote in his autobiography. The United States was not yet the United States, but already he sensed a civility problem. His solution: structured, secular chitchat, ‘conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory.’”
What appealed to me about starting a Ben Franklin Circle was the pursuit via conversation and discussion of virtuous living in a spirit of inquiry, not prescription, in a way that linked back to civic responsibility and community connection. By improving ourselves as individuals, or at least aspiring to live according to values, we also might improve our communities. That could begin with civil conversations.
I have run a Circle in Seattle, Washington since May 2018. It’s rooted in the idea of collaboration in a spirit of fairness and curiosity. Our Circle isn’t a tribal group. We’re a circle of people wanting to exchange ideas, challenge ourselves and commit to discussion. I personally try to take what I learn outside of my head and into the community and that’s takes some time and thought – all worthwhile.
Through my Circle, I’ve gained friendship and a commitment to open-mindedness. I co-host the group with another person and throughout, I haven’t really seen myself as a host but more as a fellow conversationalist and thinker. What comes across most for me is the dedication my group has to look at ourselves and the world not only through Franklin’s eyes, but our own and others’, as well. I’ve even planned two vacations around the meetings because I like everyone and enjoy the conversation.
Some in our group prefer the intellectual pursuit, while I tend to want to bring what I learn or reflect upon out to the larger world. I’m also learning to be less wary of sharing more personal experiences. I tend to preface more personal statements, in a way flagging what I’m about to say as “personal” in some way – almost like a warning – but I suspect I don’t need to do that anymore. In the future, I’ll try it without the prefacing and see how it goes.
And our group will have more time to grow. We completed Franklin’s 13 virtues and everyone wants to continue as a Ben Franklin Circle. We like being involved with the national network of Circles around the country. The new set of virtues will bring a sense of change. I suggested that we explore new meeting places and invite more people to join us. We also may restructure how we run the meetings: bringing in new readings or guest speakers. So when we meet next, we’ll jump start a new year of virtues and values. Wohoo!