“When’s the last time you had a meaningful conversation?” was the question I was asked upon arriving at a workshop for the relatively-new campus initiative, Ask Big Questions (ABQ).
More often than not we go out with friends, launch into a new relationship, or jump ship from one job to another without a clear understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing. We never pause and develop a conscious intention and, as a result, things tend to get messy down the road.
Whenever I teach about ritual or work with people to prepare for a life cycle transition, I always stress that what makes a ritual powerful and effective is the preparation and intention with which we approach the event. While there is a certain “magic” to liminal moments, we cannot simply show up and experience a transformation. The same is true for how we experience the holidays of the Jewish year. Not only must we appropriately prepare for each holiday, but also we must consider how we want to connect this year.
“How are we seen” is a big question. One that undoubtedly creates an inclusive and productive space to dialogue about the killing of Michael Brown and subsequent protest. My hope though, is that beyond how one may be seen or want to be seen, we get to asking ourselves, How am I Michael Brown? How could I never be Michael Brown? And how am I Officer Wilson?
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.
In her piece on Tisha B’av and communal mourning, “Out of Isolation,” Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explores the relationship between ritual, sacred space, and conversation. She talks about how ritual can be a “container that can help us hold some of the complexity of our feelings” — in this particular case, grief. She then describes another possible vessel for our experience: conversation.
We are delighed to be featured in the newspaper of record! David Bornstein wrote an wonderful article on our work. Here's an excerpt:
“If you start a student discussion with a hard question, like ‘How can we bring peace to the Middle East?,’” Feigelson says, “the two students who think they know the most are going to debate and protest, while everyone else watches and thinks they have nothing to contribute. It doesn’t build trust or capacity for solving problems. It creates an adversarial environment.”
Ask Big Questions is a methodology and a set of tools that can help your campus build community, develop habits and skills of listening, and foster learning that leverages diversity. Campuses have used Ask Big Questions in a wide variety of ways, from convening conversations in residence halls, to campus-wide campaigns around major speakers and events, to using Ask Big Questions conversations in service-learning.
If you think Ask Big Questions could be valuable for you, we encourage you to attend Basic Training!
What is it?
This post originally appeared on the Ritualwell blog. Ritualwell.org is our partner on the Tisha B'Av guide.
"Take solace in the fact that she's in a better place now."
"Don't sit around moping after the breakup—you need to get out!"
"Cheer up! It'll get better from here."