"It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men – so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. ... Friends are the better for being two."
G. K. Chesterton
Two formatsIn March 2017, NSS trustees determined that an "open format" with initial panelist statements followed by audience questions would be preferable to a narrower "panel-only format" that would permit us to present a tightly moderated symposium suitable for recording and editing in the studios of our local PBS affiliate, KPTS [an aspiration we continue to have]. Thankfully, the subsequent and gracious announcement by Friends University that they would host future NSS symposia in their great facilities has made that decision appear to be the right one for NSS for now.
With that introduction, let's go through the steps of a symposium so you know what to expect and how you can help make it a valuable evening for all participants.
Preparing for a symposiumWell before each symposium, our trustees [with input from NSS members]
- choose a topic of current or perennial relevance to the lives of the people in our community then
- frame some introductory questions [sometimes short and sometimes not] that can be used to construct and deconstruct the obvious assertions and the obscure assumptions which might arise and appear as central features or peripheral context when the topic is engaged in thoughtful dialogue.
At this point we announce the symposium [by email and on our blogsite's "Announcements" page] with a proposed date. Sometimes we also use a separate announcement document [accessible from a link on the "Announcements" page] to record our ongoing progress in planning the symposium.
Finally, we work with NSS members and friends to identify and match a few distinct and essential points of view [POVs] with 4-5 panelists and a moderator who are willing and able to work together to share their thoughts on a topic which was, is or will someday be important to them in real lives.
Posting the "next symposium"Once the announced topic is actually next in line, we remove it from the "Announcements" page and post it as the "Next Symposium" where we continue to nourish it as it grows towards the evening of its public appearance. We encourage all symposiasts [panelists and audience alike] to help "flesh out" the topic by blogging COMMENTs and REPLYs on the post that identify and build possible trains of thought for consideration when we actually gather.
The role of our panelistsOur panelists volunteer to articulate the different POVs we need to gain a broader understanding of the topic in question. We are always in their debt for serving us in this important role ... so be sure to thank them.
Some will find it helpful to think of this diagrammatically with our panelists serving as skilled archers who can shoot the arrows that help us identify the boundaries as well as the center of our topic. Indeed, the word "dialogue" is Greek for "through the matter". It is often humbling and requires panelists to work together to reveal our topic with a significant degree of clarity. But even though the work is never easy ... it is always rewarding for somebody.
We ask nothing of our panelists except that they be present and be themselves. In the open format, each panelist is given an opportunity to state a POV in the first half of the symposium ... and is available to answer audience questions in the second half.
However, some or all of the following [if available and convenient] provided by a panelist prior to the evening's gathering can help us all prepare and anticipate [which is part of the experience].
- a Bio and/or advance POV statement ... brief or detailed
- the names of [or the links to] a few helpful articles or books on the topic
- a blog COMMENT or REPLY to whet our appetites.
The role of our audienceOur audience is asked to come with questions but to permit those questions to change as the evening's dialogue progresses. If called on by our moderator, remember that we are ALL assembled to prompt responses from our panelists and not to state our own individual points of view [as much as we may wish to do so publicly]. Try to state one question as clearly and simply as possible then sit down and listen. Audience questions should usually take one of three basic meta-cognitive forms:
- a request for further definition of a keyword [the grammar],
- a question about the validity of a critical premise [the logic] or
- an inquiry about a possible conclusion [the rhetoric].
The role of our moderatorOur moderator is responsible to ... shall-we-say ... "moderate" both panel and audience participation ... which might be defined as follows:
"To reduce the amount or intensity of; lessen; reduce; restrain; specifically, to reduce from a large amount or great degree to a medium quantity or intensity: as, to moderate the heat of a room; to moderate anger, ardor, or passion."This requires a willing spirit but also persistent sensitivity and skill in reliably discerning and hospitably directing the unfolding flow of the evening's events ... whether anticipated or spontaneous ... to help us all keep moving along together towards a valuable shared experience. Some things to expect from the moderator are
- an opening reminder of our general guidelines and any special exceptions,
- keeping time for the panelists as they "unpack" their points of view for us,
- identifying [and assisting] audience members with clearly articulating questions,
- coordinating individual panelist responses to questions,
- guiding intra-panel dialogue arising from questions and
- bringing the evening to a timely close [normally 8:45pm].
It's a wrapWe like to make an AV recording of the evening's activities. The recording is shared with media and uploaded to YouTube [under "New Symposium Society"] as well as inserted as part of an Epilogue to the post which recaps the evening's events and readies the post for our permanent post archive ... where you or others can return to it in the future to see our progress [or lack thereof].
Time to beginSo there it is ... if we remember why we are gathering, practice good manners and follow a few simple guidelines, we have a good chance of experiencing an exciting and productive symposium ... from conception ... to announcement ... through panelist selection and posting ... to pre-symposium blogging ... culminating in a great evening of face-to-face dialogue and friendship ... as we rescue discourse from the political parties!
So why not join us? You would be most welcome.