Regarding "Unity" Meetings & Sundry Other Community Gatherings - An Analysis
by David Rambeau
In his book, "Up The Organization", Peter Townsend stated, "Avoid meetings like the plague." I have used that comment as a guide ever since I read it years ago. Even so, it took me some years to actually practice this nostrum. But in the last few years I've studiously avoided meetings. Maybe my avoidance has resulted from my use of public transportation, namely Detroit's bus system, which is service-challenged night and day. Whatever the reason, I was well served recently by the rote practice of this commandment.
A so-called "Unity Meeting" was held in Detroit, and I queried three attendees about it after the fact. All three of them said unequivocally that it was a waste of time. At my rapidly advancing age I don't have time to waste so I was glad I didn't attend.
They did, however, say that the food served was excellent. That, from what I was told, was the gathering's only redeeming quality. The church sisters can still cook. God bless them.
Some of the criticisms levied about the session were the choice of the presenters, the lack of a plan or an agenda, the fact that some were situated on a platform above the group subtly communicating a two-tiered, unequal relationship regarding "unity", and the suspicion of a hidden agenda other than "unity".
One of those attendees suggested that unity is best demonstrated by having all members on the same level and seated in a circle. The presenters were seated onstage, like so many sparrows on a power line thinking they're eagles, and that the electric power which surges through the line was, like their rhetoric, of their own creation. So in this case three of those who attended thought unity appeared to beget disunity.
These are indeed uneasy times where trust is thinly spread among the faithful. Treachery, deceit, ego, opportunism, individualism, immaturity, ad hocism and disrespect are rampant, precluding productive development or relationships.
Rhetoric without research abounds. Study is a four-letter word. Experts without history or practice sprout like bamboo shoots. Meanwhile, in the midst of a national economic boom, our community suffers...AIDS, under-employment, disfranchisement, lack of health care, alienation, single parent families, snaggle-toothed neighborhoods, beggars everywhere, pollution, mis-education, isolation, apathy. What is to be done?
That unity meeting, or any other, including this one between writer and reader, would benefit by having the invitation drop presumptuous titles, and merely offer an invitation to a select number of invitees to attend a complimentary dinner gathering which would involve networking with other activists and putting up with a panel of second-rate presenters making comments that no one is particularly interested in as a penalty for being served a free meal.
We don't need, nor should we strive for, unity, which any study of local, national or international history has repeatedly and conclusively shown to be unattainable, if not undesirable. What is attainable and desirable are relationships, particularly mutually beneficial or productive ones, as opposed to social ones, which though valuable do not solve particular problems nor raise the level of discourse or production. Accompany mutually beneficial relationships with pre-production, plans and agendas, some hard work, critical analysis, follow up and patience, and we might be looking at some progress. Meetings, properly developed, can facilitate these..
Something similar could be the function of meetings. What we need to deal with in meetings are mutually beneficial relationships that work on problems that need to be addressed, if not solved. Unfortunately, because we are a predominantly oral culture, we are drowned in a sea of rhetoric without research, review or results. We regularly hear a plethora of speeches wherever more than three people come together, and then depart thinking we have accomplished our work and that something beneficial is going to happen.
If speeches at meetings were productive, we wouldn't have any problems; we'd be living in the Garden of Eden rather than the world-class city. For sponsors and presenters, better a sermon lived, than a sermon preached. In fact this analysis is only worthy in the context of others presented in a forum and printed in our publication.
If we set modest goals and develop thorough plans that have more give and less take, our meetings might have greater impact and better reviews.