Everybody loves a good conversation. There’s something about the language of conversation that’s different from the language used in emails, texts, on the phone, or in business settings. In face-to-face conversations, one tends to dispense with superficial labels. Ideally, one does a lot of listening. Everybody is on equal footing, especially when the conversation takes place around a table (preferably with food and drink); everybody watches one another’s expressions. No one stares at a device. People make mistakes in such conversations, beginning a sentence a couple of times, or pausing to think something through. Conversation can be messy. That’s part of its charm.
In May 2015, I received an invitation to just such a conversation. The invitation was sent to all Commonweal subscribers in Manhattan. While Commonweal was the source of the list, it was Mary and Roger Mulvihill who offered their apartment and hospitality for the gathering. About thirty-five people responded to the invitation to talk about participating in an ongoing conversation, specifically about world events and other issues.
At that first gathering, most of us were surprised to learn that the magazine was nearing its hundredth anniversary. The Mulvihills gave us a few facts about Commonweal and then laid out the purpose of a new program, “Commonweal Local Communities.” The goal is to provide a forum to simply talk about issues that most of us were already talking about anyway. Only in this venue, we’d be taking into account some perspectives offered in the magazine or on Commonweal’s website. Would we be interested in gathering once a month and using Commonweal articles to light the fuse for conversation? Looking around, several people were nodding their heads in interest. I still wasn’t sure. Did I want one more thing to do?
But the more I thought about joining a Commonweal community group, the more intrigued I became by the idea of discussions about major issues informed by the magazine’s well-written articles. The idea particularly appealed to me because I knew no one in the group at that opening meeting, but I felt a kind of camaraderie anyway because of our connection to the magazine.