High Profile Gatherings on Behalf of Human Cause, Pizazz on Behalf of Nitty-Gritty, Is There An Alternative?

High Profile Gatherings on Behalf of Human Cause,

Pizazz on Behalf of Nitty-Gritty,

Is There a More Fitting Type of Gathering?

Dear Readers!

I’m posting a reply to a set of exchanges that developed between me and another thinker as we shared thoughts on a Huffington Post article written by Maria Shriver. The person to whom I write, Chris Rodda, and I, each posted responses to Shriver’s article, an article celebrating and promoting an upcoming Women’s Conference to be held in September of this year. Chris honored me with a reply of thoughtfulness and length. In turn, I have written an also lengthy response.

So as not to confuse my writing with well researched and documented writing of Chris’s caliber, I include a link here to her HP blog, and also a link to the Shriver article that sparked this exchange.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda (Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History. )

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maria-shriver/what-is-it-time-for-you-t_b_614927.html (Shriver is an Emmy-winning journalist, best-selling author and first lady of the State of California)

Replies to Shriver’s article range from enthusiasm and support (for the women’s conference), to ‘partial praise’, to voices expressing annoyance and anger – which I read as voices from those whose day to day lives are very different from those of conference presenters and likely conference attendees.

My first response to the Shriver article was to visualize a gathering of many whose lives include a certain amount of ‘pizazz’, and who are not much caught in ‘nitty-gritty struggle’ as experienced by those of limited economic opportunity. It is my experience that one cannot maintain genuine understanding of a very different economic reality.  Glamourous gatherings attract those most drawn to glamour; a ‘draw’ that trumps capacity to relate to reality of ‘nitty-gritty existence, no matter how sincere are those who attend. Critical, negative, comments on the Shriver Conference question the legitimacy of “planning on behalf of women” when conference leadership, presenters, are generally high-profile,  ultra-successful in our culture, often with wealth attached to their success.

I think there is legitimacy to this criticism**.

As alternative to pizazz, I proposed “community grass-roots gatherings” as a contrasting plan for “uplifting women” (or people generally). I proposed these gatherings be run on a “consensus building” model, and that they not be restricted to “high profile local community leaders”. My enthusiasm for what I know of community grass-roots consensus model problem solving is that it can (should, in my book) reject distractions of ‘a glamor conference’.  It can (should) give voice to segments of the population represented by the  women who have commented negatively on Shriver’s Women’s Conference.

Chris drew from her own experience in such a (community, grass-roots, to discuss issues) gathering to remind me why they might not be successful. I want to also make clear, Chris did not ‘argue’ in support of ‘glitz’ as the Women’s Conference appears intent on displaying!  She commented on my enthusiasm for consensus-model solution-finding.  I am the one who makes a point to contrast glitz (and “high profile leadership) with approaching human need solution making through a consensus model gathering.)

What you read below is not focused on whether or not the conference should take place.  I write on problems and corrections to make community grass-roots problem-solving gatherings work.  A nitty-gritty sourced  wisdom, which, when well-accomplished, I believe superior in focus and voice to “high profile leadership”.

Because I also offer some background information on myself by way of explaining “where I’m coming from”, my post to Chris is lengthy. I have decided to place it here on my blog instead of in 250-word segments required to post on HP.

I don’t know if Chris will find this post or not. I’ve left a brief post in the thread on HP to alert her I will post here. I will be honored if she does find this, but hope, even if she does not, that what I post here is relevant to my overall blog concern: “helping us, all of humanity, become the best we can be, without special emphasis on material success!”

(**To be totally ‘fair’ to conference organizers.  They seem interested in bringing more women, especially professional ‘class’ women, to success.  They hope to inspire and offer ideas, information.  The Conference does not appear interested in “ordinary” or “nitty-gritty” lives other than, perhaps, to suggest these are “fixable” (by emphasizing grand success).  The critics sense this exclusionary focus is not about “women” at all, not in any general “life of women” issues – poverty, for example. It is lack of interest in nitty-gritty lives that offends, that I believe a legitimate offense. I believe a better focus for any conference on “Women”, would be a focus on realities of woman in these times. In my world, women of ‘nitty-gritty’ lives would be  a primary source of information and would generate much solution out of their own creativity!  The ‘real’ discussion here is to further promote models of citizen solution finding through grass-roots consensus model decision making processes. I am indebted to Chris for her extensive reply.  It has given me cause to consider how my preferred ‘citizen problem solving by consensus model’  might not work “off the cuff”. What goes wrong? What is needed?  It is these I address, after I get past the “to Chris” background sharing, of mixed relevance to my “conference concern.”  See section 5  particularly.)


Hello Chris!

Thank you for taking time to write a thoughtful reply on what the conference means to you. (whether or not you attend – but the concept, the effort behind it, the power of the line-up.) I especially appreciate your sketch of related and formative personal experience, both through family, and through exposure to one of my pets: community issue explorations structured on a consensus model.

By formative personal experience, I include experience at any age, by the way, not only ‘childhood formative years’. I won’t dip into an essay on the importance of post-childhood experience in continuing to shape ‘world view’, or the connection between the early-child world view formation and how it interplays with post-childhood experience. But your post reminded me that world view shaping continues as we go along.

I am delighted at your mother’s achievement, and ‘pluck’ to have also moved to Ireland! Based on only those tidbits, without even knowing her ‘field of study’, I’m carrying an image of a lively and interesting person! What a treasure! I also feel ‘tuned into’ your father. My ‘sense’ of him is fed perhaps too much by recent airings on BBC7 of a radio drama series of a female crime investigator and her ‘behind the scenes’ supportive father, but I’m content that what I’ve got in mind is ‘on target’ with who your father was in his support of you.

Without wandering through my personal parent experience too much – I’ll say my experiences have a similarity, but different outcome. Both parents deeply focused on ‘best outcome’ for their children (4 of them), and both parents also carrying world views that limited their sense of ‘possibility’ – even limited their sense of how one goes about identifying and then following, personal talents and interests. Based on the family environments my parents each came from, neither of them ever “escaped” a “rule” that said: “first comes service to greatest need, then, maybe, if time and resources remain, comes service to personal goals and aims. (which might, but need not, include ‘pizazz’.)”

They were not ‘fierce’ in vocal pronouncement of this creed. They seemed almost at times to ‘wear’ it, as ‘harness’. They lived it, demonstrated it, for all their years (both deceased). We were a farm family during a post WW2 culture when ‘leaving the farm in droves’ was afoot. Money was tight and service the focus; material life was pretty much ‘needs based’: no TV and no formal holidays. Extra dollars when available went to soil conservation developments on the farm. We kids started 40/hr paid work at age 12 – for the girls, local babysitting and poorly paid – this later morphed into hospital work, also with quite low pay – evening shifts, so not much “teen summer” experience! Every child to a state university.

Childhood for me was a life that did not offer clear modeling of, or practical explanation on, how to enter ‘the broader culture’. I could identify talents and interests, but had no clue how to turn these into a ‘personal reality’. I’ve managed to ‘bungle along’ in a sort of ‘peripheral way’ and during this time have intensely explored the ‘human potential movement’ in all its forms: women’s movement, post 70’s psychology, NLP, (yep, Tony R’s promotions have been in there too), spiritual movement from Zen meditation  to “rules for successful dream manifestation”. “Peripheral” is an apt key word. I was a peripheral hippie, a peripheral back-to-the-lander, a peripheral women’s movement radical, a peripheral ‘successful middle-classer’, a peripheral ‘new ager’, and now seem most certainly a peripheral ‘retiree’! I won’t offer the extensive explanation I’ve got ‘in head’, but will say, the creed from my childhood setting, “service before personal”, is one I seem to have taken to heart.


As one who, despite patterns set in early years,  had talents and dreams of exploring them to “successful demonstration”, I have remained ‘peripheral’. From the periphery, I have watched a lot of people approach “making life meaningful”. I have observed enough to outright reject the mantra “it’s all about choice”.

One of my mantras is: “It’s all about consciousness raising, about identification, about vocabulary that allows conversation, that in turn allows ‘awakening’”. The women’s movement was my source for this. It impressed me then, and has fit with every exposure I’ve since had to “change movements”. Not so nifty and quick a mantra – but it’s where I’ve settled!  In my experience, consensus model decision making serves also to inform widely and broadly about one another’s lives, needs, and thoughts.  Consensus-model problem-solving, serves to “raise consciousness”.


My “successful middle class period” was as  classroom teacher in a high needs school in a relatively rural environment. I started late (mid-80’s) and continued through to the early 2000’s. As a ‘watcher’ (and questioner) I saw great improvements in the people our school served, especially improvements in “consciousness” of possibility, and “awareness of strategy, of personal management” toward lives of greater satisfaction, optimism, and contentment. Both in students and in their parents. We teachers were given lots of in-service and course work in understanding poverty, differences in learning styles, multiple intelligences, learning disabilities and related cause, and processes to support potential into reality. Through our school’s classroom and community programs, we delivered “social services” in a context of “academic development”.

None of our work involved much pizazz. We hung out at the nitty-gritty level. Relationships were personal. Teacher conferences certainly included a “step away” from the nitty-gritty, could have headed into pizazz, but budgets didn’t allow for much, and from my long peripheral observations of ‘cultural show of success’, no pizazz was necessary. (From my point of view, pizazz can easily usurp service intent.) We could, and very frequently did, meet in classrooms, sit in student desks. A treat were district conferences held in secondary schools where desks were adult sized!

Our in-service included practice of consensus-model decision making process.  We used this among ourselves in professional planning, and also used it in the classroom with students.


I need to pull my focus back to your HP reply. Community meetings to give voice to the voiceless on issues they find in their lives.

I can imaginatively put myself in the community meeting you describe. Your description matches what I know of people. Focus on personal wants/needs, without interest in wants/needs of  “the whole” – those whose lives are different – is common throughout social/economic layers.

My experience as a teacher lets me ‘diagnose’ that what possibly was lacking in your experience with ‘consensus-making’ was “consciousness” and language of, “needs of other”. Awareness of needs of others (at all levels of the culture) is often present but relatively unconscious. Is often espoused in trite catch-phrases but not “gut-known” in any articulable way. Not true of each and every individual by any means, but our culture has supported “me and mine” above “all of us” and this shows up in gatherings, even when the intent may be to describe and address larger group or even ‘all-life’ needs.

Teachers are advised to “never assume ready-ness”, to “assess for ready-ness” and if it’s found lacking, to ‘back up’ and teach to ready-ness first. I think the disappointment you found in the community meeting was based in ‘lack of ready-ness’, which can also be described as “lack of consciousness, lack of language that allows ‘up-front presence of consciousness’ in what is thought, what is said.

It is a common teacher practice to establish criteria (at best, to do so with, rather than for, the group!) It might have been helpful if facilitators had established a ‘rule’ that “larger group and social needs” must be included in what was offered. It would be interesting to know if this was done, was articulated. Was a ‘strategy’ for keeping it in mind part of the process description, before small group discussion was underway?

If need for relevance to larger group was not first established, and supported by strategy to help this be the focus, then “me and mine” thinking would be predictable, (in my experience). If facilitators did set this up, then they probably did what they could to quickly create “ready-ness” without first sending everyone to interpersonal communication course work!

As of yet, popular culture does not practice several “interpersonal communication” key teachings that grew out of late 20th century psychology and the ‘human potential movement’. One of the teachings not yet incorporated into ordinary thought and speech is “asking open ended questions of another’s life experience” and “listening without reservation or judgment” to whatever ‘the other’ says. The teaching continues: “reflect back what you believe you have heard, and ask more open-ended questions if you are not yet clear on the meaning of other’s experience – the meaning to that individual.” There are many who do practice this, but we do not have a ‘cultural way’ that gives us time needed.  Most of us shift to ignoring voices of others or to imagination-based empathy and assume we “know” another’s situation.  (I say this because, as modern human, I find it in myself!)

We do not have a culture that is ‘ready’, that is ‘trained’, that supports, in common language-based exchange, the practice of ‘larger group need’ awareness. We have catch-phrases so time-worn as to be automatic, therefore not actively ‘conscious’. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, and variants, lose functional meaning in our “me and mine” culture.

There is so very much understanding of human “lack of awareness” to explore! I must bring this to a close. It’s 12 noon here and I promised to have this on my blog by now.

One of the unexplored understandings I’ve brought up in previous blog posts is captured in the question: “Is it more effective to “serve” in strong leadership position, even if it means accepting a level of personal “corruption”, or is it more effective, in the long run, to try to stay as “clean of corruption” as possible while delivering even modest service, (with the usual result of no effective “power” to make a ‘large scale’ difference!)? A ‘problem’ for me, a problem I ‘see’ in the broad culture, is that the distractions of power, of glitz and glamor, corrupt our potential to function most helpfully on behalf of both ourselves and all others.

Since current enthusiasm for “power” includes pizazz, and acceptance of a certain amount of “corruption”, the question is relevant to whether or not Shriver’s women’s conference is “in touch with” nitty-gritty realities of women who will not attend for a range of reasons: economics, day-to-day struggles, acquired world-views and beliefs, time available, and so on.

As is too common these days, I feel I am “swimming” in thoughts and perhaps not organizing them systematically enough.

Given that my ‘deadline’ is ‘up’, I post “as-is”.

Best Regards!!



To readers here on “thoughts from the well” – in internet activities I have long used used ‘Maggie’ a nickname from the past. Sometimes log-ins for “Maggie” are taken, so I shift to variations, and on HP I am “Meg”. If you want to find my posts, the visual accompanying them is a single not-yet-unfolded rose. Btw: my word-processing spell checker says ‘pizzazz’, my blog spell checker says ‘pizazz’ – google says ‘pizazz’ – so I’ve changed to pizazz and hope I’ve caught them all!

My Best! –MaggieAnn


About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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