BFC Around the Holidays
Part 1: Orienting ourselves to the season
In November, BFC Hosts around the country talked about what it means to host a Circle during the winter holidays. This is part one of a two-part post.
Why this discussion?
Regardless of what we celebrate or how we gather, many of us will spend more time than usual these next few months with family and friends, traveling, or outside of our comfort zones in one way or another. November through January is a unique time of year. Emotions and experiences can feel heightened from stress to joy to the weight of financial decisions. As we head into a whole season of gatherings, the monthly gatherings that we have chosen to have in our lives through BFC can become especially helpful and impactful.
The last decade has also seen incredible growth in organizations like BFC that offer meaningful connection and conversation across difference. As more people choose to participate in these forums, more of us are requesting guidance to help navigate charged family conversations over the holidays. Therefore it feels especially relevant to take some time now to think about how Ben Franklin Circles can (individually and collectively) contribute to this broader inquiry.
Lastly, we receive many questions every year about the “best way” to schedule Circle meetings during summer break and the winter holidays. While we won’t say there’s a “best way” we can share some lessons learned.
Making use of good advice
If we take a look at all the advice out there this time of year, there are some common suggestions for “surviving” the holidays that rise to the top as especially good advice for BFC hosts.
1. Realizing what is in your control and what is not in your control
2. Setting intentions
3. Setting realistic expectations
1. Realize what is in your control and what is not in your control. Practice letting go of the things not in your control.
Realize that some things are out of your control:
“This can be tough, but the sooner this recognition occurs, the better. We cannot control the weather, the traffic, or the actions of other people. When we fight against what is out of our control, we often end up feeling more miserable and stressed out. Instead of stressing about what you cannot change, give yourself permission to let go of the struggle and move forward.”
Realize that some things are in your control:
“While it is not always easy, we do have the power to control our actions and reactions. We also have the ability to influence our state of consciousness, mental processes, and physiological responses. By effectively drawing upon your own personal resources, you allow yourself the opportunity to regain control and feel more at ease.” Source: Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center
When it comes to hosting a Circle:
We can’t control other people’s schedules or their responsiveness around scheduling.
We can control what we offer the group as a Host. We can control how many options or attempts we make to convene.
We can’t control if or how people might take us up on that offer.
We can control how we process the responses we get.
What else comes to mind?
It is important to remind ourselves that BFC does not need to be yet another thing we are striving to get just right this time of year. It should not be an additional source of guilt or stress for you as a host and can be a great time to lighten expectations and keep an eye out for creative responses if things don’t go as planned. Many hosts say that their December meetings are different from the others – maybe it’s smaller or a little less orderly, and that’s O.K.
2. Set an intention
One of the strengths of Ben Franklin Circles is that they can be many different things to many different people and serve a variety of roles in our lives. For example, Circles can be:
• Places of refuge and thoughtfulness
• Places to prepare for a challenge ahead
• A place of affirmation or a simple point of connection
• A support system or point of accountability
• A social outlet
• A place to talk about those you are close to with those you may not know very well –which offers a unique kind of freedom and openness
• Maybe even a good place to get ideas for gifts or for creating your own holiday rituals
In the midst of a season where emotions and experiences can feel extra intense and there’s a lot of competition for our attention, focusing in on one or two intentions for your Circle can be especially fulfilling.
One way to set an intention for your Circle is to ask yourself: What do people in my Circle need this time of year? Or: What is it that my Circle is good at providing? Maybe this is just a thought exercise for you. Maybe you have a co-host to discuss it with. If you can, pose the question to your Circle members before your next meeting. Or it can be part of your opening check-in or its own topic of discussion.
3. Set realistic expectations
How can you set realistic expectations for yourself? How might you do that for your Circle? This is a good place to use scheduling as an example. However, we encourage you to keep the broader question in mind. Please note that for every scheduling suggestion here we have heard from at least one person who has done the exact opposite and been quite happy with the results.
If you are just starting a Circle: it can be a good idea to plan for January. January is a great time to begin as people are already looking for opportunities to focus on self-improvement and new beginnings. If you are just starting a Circle or want to add some new participants, make use of that January energy. Send an invite out as soon as possible before people become focused on other things and schedule a few rounds of invitations between now and your start date to keep it in mind. You can use these invitations. All that being said, always defer to your specific situation and knowledge of the people you are inviting to your Circle. If you feel like people want to start now, start now!
If you are part-way through: it is good to maintain a consistent schedule, but this is a great time of year to be flexible. Take the temperature of your Circle. If you feel like you are still building an initial connection, it can be worth a little more effort to nurture that and look for a way for everyone to interact even if it is not your usual meeting. If you have a strong Circle, a break from your regular schedule or even your usual format can be refreshing. Either way, do get your next meeting date on the calendar now and set a group expectation for how you will pick back up.
If people are away: consider an online gathering or connection point. While some people don’t feel like online settings are particularly inviting, they can be surprisingly connective. And, if your Circle members already know each-other you will bring that connection with you. We heard recently from a host who said that after struggling to schedule, her Circle tried a one-time online meeting and had a great gathering and discussion. Or, maybe this becomes an invitation to look for one creative way to connect people over the next few weeks, people can share their thoughts in pairs or write letters or swap favorite recipes.
Make use of the themes of the season!
This can be an especially good time to ask people to be generous with their space or to help you get the word out about your Circle. When their regular space was closed for renovations, the Greenwood Village CO Circle asked a local hotel about space and was granted use of one of their conference rooms (read that here). This could be a good time of year to ask around at some places you haven’t approached yet.
Another way to do this, of course, is to connect themes of the season to specific virtues. We take this on in part two of this blog post.