After an enjoyable evening out with friends or family, I often remark, “we solved all the problems of the world.”
It is meant as high praise: the conversation covered broad topics but reached consensus of a sort, even if it was a little hazy. Whether it’s a dinner party, going out in the evening to catch up after work, or sitting around having morning coffee while the bacon cooks at home, the agreements come a lot more easily than people think, I would say.
I work for the Brooklyn Public Library and deal with the public all day, every day. There is a saying among people who work in public service, here and elsewhere: everyone’s the same. It means that despite gender, race, class, and the whole host of ways Americans classify themselves as different from others, everyone likes a surprising and heartening number of common things—and they dislike many similar things as well. Food, daily city life, a good jacket, a good boss, travel, I’ve shared many funny, revealing, and memorable conversations on these topics with persons I seldom socialize with.
What I enjoy most about hosting and facilitating a Ben Franklin Circle is the opportunity to provide these moments of connection for others.
At our first meetings, I mentioned it being a safe space, confidential, and speaking was entirely voluntary. An hour later, we were discussing our lunch habits as though they were advanced rock climbing techniques – those weird personal preferences we all have surrounding things, that lose the weirdness in the telling and the look of recognition from others who can relate.
Someone in the Circle recently asked me if I thought Ben Franklin was too old fashioned to be a touch point for the group. “Not at all, “ I answered, truthfully. A list of virtues, and a chart marking down how you did improving on them—that is useful in and of itself, isn’t it?
If, like me, you walk away from a dinner party feeling some inner glow at the marvel of good conversation, I would recommend that you participate in a Ben Franklin Circle yourself, or host one.
Not a hagiography to Ben Franklin but a reveling in the human spirit, grounded in pragmatic concepts, the Circles offer an easy and friendly way to connect. Following their progress across the country I am curious to see what comes out of them, although each of our meetings, here in Brooklyn, resets ourselves. And that is also high praise.