Meetings are the key place where things happen in Why This Way. Meetings are where the beliefs and practices of the organization are discussed and developed, and are the times and places where people can introduce changes to the group's core beliefs and practices.
In official meetings, we follow the rules of communication when speaking, and enforce these rules through the process of communication. If the group agrees to end or suspend the official part of the meeting, or if people want to meet and talk about Why This Way while speaking casually, people can also hold unofficial meetings where the rules and process of communication are either not followed or only loosely followed. These unofficial meetings or unofficial segments of meetings cannot be used to introduce changes to the group's core beliefs and practices.
What to expect in meetings
Our meetings tend to be small (3-12 people) and are discussion-oriented. They have been held both in private homes and in public spaces. Often they are preceded by people gathering to eat, like a potluck dinner, or sometimes, going out to eat. There is no leader, and everyone present plays a role of moderator, as described in our process of communication.
Choice of what to discuss happens by consensus
The group decides by consensus what to discuss. This process is usually easy and natural: anyone who has a particularly urgent or high-priority matter that they'd like to discuss speaks up (which is relatively uncommon, as our group is mostly oriented towards forward-looking discussion). Sometimes our discussions are highly focused, whereas other times they are more open-ended. Anyone is free to bring an agenda or list of items they wish to discuss to a meeting.
Slow pace of discussion, pauses in the conversation
Discussions in Why This Way have a slower pace than most discussions on controversial topics, with longer pauses between people speaking. These pauses and the slower pace of conversation are essential to following our rules of communication: the rules require extensive thought in order to check whether or not someone is following them. In a fast-paced discussion, it would be difficult or impossible to check some of the more nuanced rules (such as whether or not someone is exaggerating, whether or not someone is stating something as fact that other people present disagree with, or whether or not someone is treating something in black-and-white categories when there is no consensus it fits into these categories).
The slow pace and pauses in the conversation are also directly related to a conversational dynamic which emphasizes listening and reflecting on what is said. This is an essential aspect of Why This Way, and it helps the group to reach consensus on controversial issues, and to discuss controversial issues while maintaining a positive environment and positive feelings.
People becoming mentally tired
Some meetings can be intellectually demanding. We have typically scheduled meetings for a length of 2 hours because this is about the limit of the time for which people can reasonably be expected to concentrate well. It is relatively common for people to become mentally tired before the officially scheduled time of the meeting. In the case that too many people are getting tired, unless there is something urgent to resolve, we will often call an early end to the official meeting. This is because people being too tired can make it harder for people to check that the rules of communication are actually being followed, and also because we don't want people to become stressed or worn down by our meetings. It is common for us to continue casual discussion of topics we were discussing beyond the end of the official meeting.
Guidelines for holding meetings
In some circumstances, people may wish to hold an official meeting spontaneously, such as in the circumstance that a person is in town spontaneously, or a group of people who do not often get to be together in the same place are together spontaneously. Because such spontaneous meetings are not accessible to others, we emphasize caution with these meetings, so that they do not result in any sense of being excluded from opportunities in our group. In particular:
- Think carefully about whether or not holding or attending a spontaneous meeting would make you or others less likely to attend a regular weekly meeting. If it would, it may be better to not have a meeting. For example, if there is a regular Saturday meeting in one area, and several people who usually attend that meeting have a spontaneous meeting on Friday, and then decide to not come to the Saturday meeting, it could result in people showing up to the Saturday meeting only to find few or no people there. This could lead to people feeling excluded from the group.
- Spontaneous meetings may not be a good place to propose any official changes to the group's core beliefs and practices that you think would be likely to be controversial among people not present.
Meetings with new people
In meetings where new people are introduced to Why This Way, we want to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. Specifically:
- Make sure everyone is familiar with the rules of communication, and is prepared and willing to follow them according to the process. We usually have handouts with the rules and process, and go over them at the beginning.
- Introduce ideas in a way that makes sense. Don't get into any complex ideas that we have discussed at previous meetings without first explaining the context and ideas behind them.
- It may take some time for people to become familiar enough with Why This Way to be comfortable with and willing to follow the rules. In this case it might make sense to have one or more unofficial meetings with a more laid-back atmosphere, where the rules are not strictly enforced, before starting official meetings with those people.
Discussions outside of meetings
In Why This Way, we encourage people to freely discuss our ideas outside of meetings. These discussions can happen in private conversations, casual group meetings, online or in social media, or in other public forums.
Resolving contentious points outside of meetings
In some organizations, it is discouraged or frowned upon to discuss contentious points outside of meetings or official channels, because such discussion can be seen as a form of secretive political struggle, such as when people attempting to win people over to their viewpoint so as to win a vote.
The fact that Why This Way uses consensus, and not voting, to make decisions creates a fundamentally different incentive in resolving disputes. Disputes cannot be resolved without reaching a consensus with the people who have opposing views, so the incentive (and practice) is for each person to converse (privately or publicly) with the people who object most strongly or directly to their points. This contrasts with voting-based organizations, where there is an incentive to approach people who are most ideologically similar, so as to gather enough votes to win a majority (or whatever proportion is required).