Happy December! Is your calendar filling up as quickly as mine as we enter the last month of the year?
This weekend I will be attending a year-end meeting and celebration with my colleagues at Sayge, a coaching company I partner with. Then, my husband and I will go to a holiday party hosted by a close friend and her boyfriend—who we’re still getting to know. We also have a long-awaited dinner with much loved friends we haven’t spent much time with since September; and, sigh, a funeral for an old friend who passed away suddenly.

The Art of Gathering

As I line up babysitters for these events, I've been thinking about a book I just finished called, “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker, an expert facilitator and advisor on meetings. She helps organizations bring people together for important events, like a dinner for Davos speakers, conferences, workshops and panels. She also advises individuals and families on how to host fulfilling and transformational gatherings.
I listened to it on Audible while doing some house chores, so I wasn’t able to take proper notes. But, here’s the list of chapters that will give you an idea about her approach: 

  • Decide why you are really hosting 
  • Close doors
  • Don’t be a chill host 
  • Create a temporary alternative world – “pop up” rules
  • Never start a funeral with logistics 
  • Keep your best self out of my gathering 
  • Cause good controversy – heat maps, safe spaces and ground rules
  • Accept that there is an end 

I facilitate and host events of all sorts and the idea of claiming your power as the host (with the courage to leave out some people, or create and enforce rules around my events) jumped out at me. We often refuse to try “too hard” at hosting. We want great events to happen organically, and we want to make it look easy. I will call that feeling a gatherer’s version of “I woke up like this.” 

Fabulous Julie Young, the creator of The Tide Film Festival who met all the best practices of “The Art of Gathering” without even reading the book.
(Photo Credit: The Tide Film Festival Team)
She urges hosts to “make peace with the necessity and virtue of using your power. If you are going to host, HOST. If you are going to gather, GATHER.” If you don’t take charge, someone else who knows nothing about what’s important about this event will. She made me laugh when she said many hosts have an instinct to exercise their hosting authority just once at the beginning of the gathering, going over rules or giving an overview of the event. “Exercising your authority once and early on in the gathering is like exercising your body once and early on in your life,” she said. “It isn’t enough to just set a purpose and groundwork. All these things need enforcements.” 
As a people-pleaser and a giver-away-of-power as my default setting, my instinct as a host is to try to make everyone feel good and comfortable. Which responsibility, as a host, am I abandoning by trying to please people and give away my power? This is something I will think about every time I bring people together for a meal, party, meeting or conference. 
Speaking of events, I want to mention two that left an impression on me since my last note to you.

Tide Film Festival 
I got to witness a magical event on November 9th, the opening night of the very first Tide Film Festival, which honored and highlighted filmmakers of color.

You may remember in my November note that I mentioned this festival and my friend, Julie Young, who dreamt about doing something like this for years. It felt amazing to see her vision literally come to life. What I appreciated about the event is that she let her original vision, purpose and values guide and shape the event from the big themes to the smallest detail. Priya Parker calls this, “letting your purpose be the bouncer.”
Beautiful filmmakers of the short films being honored on the opening night.
(Photo Credit: Chong Oh)
Julie looked like a movie star in her Philip Lim dress, and was the kind of host Parker would have been proud of. She hosted in a way that allowed for natural sparks to fly within the world she created. One way she honored the festival’s spirit of diversity, was by choosing eight short films, rather than one feature film, like many other festivals do. The panel of the eight filmmakers was a sight to behold. They were individuals of different color, style, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity and national origin. They, as a group on the stage, embodied the spirit of the event.

We were all there - filmmakers and guests - to experience, celebrate, honor and witness something special. No one was there as a prop to be shown or to clap at the right moment.
Reimagining Justice: NYC Without Rikers Island: Probation, Parole and Bail Reform – Policies to Prevent Incarceration and Promote 
On November 15th, I had the opportunity to facilitate an expert panel discussion on the topic of Rikers Island; Probation, Parole and Bail Reform—Policies to Prevent Incarceration and Promote.
Our generous and passionate experts were Vincent Schiraldi, former head of NYC Department of Probation and who now directs Columbia University Justice Lab, and Marie Ndiaye, Supervising Attorney of Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society.
If you’re thinking, “Huh? I had no idea Caroline knew anything about that subject!” You are absolutely right. I only had a few days days to prepare, because my friend Melanie Hart, who put together the conference as the Director of Social Justice Initiatives at New School, needed a last minute facilitator. I was a bit scared to walk into a room full of academics and policy makers, and (gasp) look stupid. However, I’m proud of the way I did my best to help the speakers and audience get grounded on what the panel was about, and created a collegial environment for deep learning and open discussion.
I learned that every year, 1/3rd of people who go to prison in New York, do so because they violated some technicalities of probation and not because they are convicted of new crimes. Such violations include something like jumping the subway turnstile, a version of which I have done several times as a teenager. Never athletic, I had to go under, rather than over, turnstiles. I also learned that there is no due process for those on probation and parole. Probation and parole systems were intended to be an alternative to incarceration, but are often used more as an “add-on” to incarceration. Many see this as an additional way to expand surveillance, especially of poor people of color. The lively Q&A session had academics, practitioners and formerly incarcerated people freely offering their thoughts and answering questions from the audience and the panel.
What an experience that was.
In “The Art of Gathering,” Parker advises us not to ignore that all things end. She urges us not to let our events die a slow, painful death. Instead, celebrate and mark a beautiful time spent together. So here’s my version of a proper ending to this note, to mark the end of 2018 and prepare to welcome 2019.
“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
- Gloria Steinem 

What are you dreaming of and planning for 2019?
Thank you for reading what I'm working on, learning and thinking about. Wishing you and your loved ones warm holiday wishes!
Copyright © Caroline Kim Oh - CKO Coaching and Consulting LLC - All rights reserved.

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