For many years, there has been a thriving Socrates Cafe at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a figurative stone's throw from Portland. Then, they kindly invited me to give a presentation about how my Socrates Cafe initiative, where I shared how it also has evolved into a Democracy Cafe endeavor that has touched a chord the world over.
Their interest was so piqued that they invited me to return later that year to inaugurate one. Democracy Cafe now has become one of the library's mainstay gatherings for diverse folks who want to 'democratize' about timely and timeless issues pertaining to open societies in these polarizing times.
Listen in as their fearless and marvelous facilitator, Janie Downey Maxwell, describes the boons of convening an ongoing Democracy Cafe at the library. Janie is the Innovative Programming Librarian (what a cool title), and is committed to making ours a more thoughtful, inclusive and participatory world.
On a side note, the southern Maine region is where I began my writing and teaching career a lifetime ago -- in the Lakes Region, where I was a middle school reading teacher in a six-room school house, and a reporter for a wonderful newspaper, the Bridgton News, that has been in the same family since the 19th century.
The very first article I ever wrote was on a New England town meeting -- truly a revelation in participatory and direct democracy for someone (yours truly) who hails from a sprawling city in southeast Virginia.
There are now a number of Democracy and Socrates Cafes throughout Maine, and I'm delighted that these flagship endeavors of ours have proven such an ideal fit in the Pine Tree State.
In case of interest, here also is a link to a program on Maine Public radio's talk show program on which I'm on of the featured guests exploring how to bridge political divides:
And here is a link to information about the Democracy Cafe at Thomas Memorial Library:
If you'd like more general information, please go to our nonprofit site at DemocracyCafe.org or SocratesCafe.org This truly is a time for 'all hands on deck' when it comes to making sure our open society is vibrant and on an ascending track.
Can we discover, or rediscover, our humanity in the world of finance? Are there stores of essential wisdom embedded at their core in financial matters? Is there even a nobility to finance, and of a sort that can nurture the ascent of open societies?
So asserts Mihir Desai, professor of finance at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, and author of the intriguing bestseller 'The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return.'
Listen in as Professor Desai makes an eloquent case for why those immersed in the orbit of finance should be imbued with more humanity (and more of the humanities, which are entwined with the enterprise)...
-- and conversely, how and why it is far from a stretch to maintain that most all of us can benefit from teasing out the humanity that can be plumbed from finance, if we know how and where to look.
As a scholar and street philosopher who also is an Investment Advisor Representative for Martin Capital Advisors (MartinCapital.com), I found Mihir Desai's insights provocative and compelling
-- certainly great grist for further pondering at more foundational levels what mixes and scales of economies and markets (among myriad things) best enable all people to discover, develop and contribute their talents in ways that can make all of us ever more connected co-creators of a humane, evolving and outward-expanding universe.
For a dozen years, twice a month there has been a Socrates Cafe gathering in beautiful Edinburgh, Scotland, where according to my mom part of our family genealogy extends.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with four of the group's close-knit devotees -- we even had a fun mini-Socrates Cafe, exploring a question that has never received a majority thumbs-up during their regular ongoing gathering.
Listen in to this insightful and informative podcast with long-time Edinburgh, Scotland Socrates Cafe participants Penny Ciancanelli, Jon Davey, Nancy Fraser, and Lorraine McCann, about why Socrates Cafe has been such a boon in this polarizing era.
And by the way, I had the pleasure of meeting some when I was there in 2008 giving presentations for my book 'Socrates in Love: Philosophy for Die-Hard Romantic' and holding dialogues. Here's a link to a feature article that was in Scotland's Sunday Herald about the Socrates Cafe and my visit:
And here's another article I came across about the Socrates Cafe there in The Times:
A thriving Socrates Cafe has taken hold in Gujurat, India. According to 31-year-old Mayuri Talia, a writer, student, mother of a 4-year-old, and the organizer of the Socrates Cafe, it is helping cultivate a more flourishing participatory democracy in her city, particularly for women, and forging new bonds of friendship among people who otherwise would not have had a chance to know one another. What's more, Mayuri is sure that Socrates Cafe will soon spread to other communities throughout India.
Participants at their Socrates Cafe, who hail from diverse walks of life and experiences, have explored questions like, What is an excellent marriage? What does it mean to have a successful and rewarding life? How do we best educate our children?
Mayuri says the Socrates Cafe has helped make the world, and her world, a smaller and more connected place, and that all who take part vastly improve their listening and observation skills, and that it has made them more understanding and less judgmental, even if and as they see things differently.
Peter Atwater, president of Financial Insights (financial-insights.com), has made it his bailiwick to understand how changes in confidence affect our preferences, decisions and actions. His acclaimed book 'Moods and Markets' gives investors keen insights about how they might improve their returns by using non-market indicators of confidence.
But now we are entering new territory -- an age of what Peter by turns describes as 'fanaticism', 'stridentness', and 'colornessness'. How might we invest in such times -- not only in the markets, but in our democracy itself?
Listen in as Peter, a fellow graduate of the College of William & Mary, where I first knew him way back in 1980 when he was resident advisor on the dormitory hall of none other than Jon Stewart of 'Daily Show' fame.
Hopefully you'll come away from this exchange with Peter, a popular commentator on programs like CNBC, with more tools to deal effectively on a number of fronts with these deeply uncertain times -- but also, surprisingly, you might emerge with some sense of optimism.
[Many thanks to our amazing engineer Odin Halvorson for working his magic on this podcast. Check out Odin's website at http://www.odinhalvorson.com/ ]
Of late, there has been been what I'd call almost an explosion of new or renewed interest in Socrates Cafe and Democracy Cafe, in the U.S. and around the globe.
Imagine my delight in receiving a message from a young woman in Seoul, Republic of Korea, to let me know that she'd inaugurated a Socrates Cafe there, after talking it over with one of her philosophy teachers.
"You’re kind of spreading philosophy to the common populace," 18-year-old June Seong tells me in this latest podcast.
"You’re making philosophy more tangible," she continues, "more accessible, more fun. I think that is incredibly important, especially for people my age."
June and her fellow 'Socratizers,' as I fondly call devotees of Socratic inquiry, are getting set to hold their next gathering, after exploring the beautiful and intriguing question, at their first Socrates Cafe, "What does Socrates stand for?"
A long-time aficionado of all things Socrates and Socratic exploration, June realizes keenly "the importance of questioning, the importance of listening, and corroborating with the other persons' points."
Listen in as June conveys why she believes such Socratic explorations are more needed, timely and relevant than ever,.
p.s: If you're interested, here are links to two of my four books that have been published in Korean:
Socrates in Love (what a lovely cover design):
Six Questions of Socrates:
Oh, and here is the Facebook link to the ongoing Socrates Cafe in Seoul:
Rivkah Sass is to me the ideal librarian -- imbued with creativity, curiosity, openness, social conscience, as well as an abiding, passionate sense of mission. Rivkah is determined to make the libraries in the Sacramento, CA, library system (the fourth largest in that vast state) the go-to place for reading, for inquiry, for belonging, indeed for human flourishing on sundry scales.
Rivkah, named by the Library Journal their Librarian of the Year in 2006, has been director of the Sacramento Public Library since 2009. Thanks to her, I had the great pleasure of holding a Constitution Cafe there in 2012 -- and can't wait to return this fall to convene a Democracy Cafe.
Rivkah believes libraries play a more vital role than ever in this era of our democracy: "Where we’re going now is we’re really embedding ourselves out in the community and looking externally and saying, 'What do people need, how can we be more inclusive? How can we help children who don’t have the advantage of going to robotics camp of having the experience of learning to code? What do the communities need and how can we address them?"
To that end, among many other crossover endeavors, her library system has been at the vanguard of implementing California's Voter's Choice Act; even though it doesn't fully take effect until 2020, Sacramento's libraries already have 10 voter service centers.
The revered and much-honored librarian's steadfast commitment to libraries and literacy extends far beyond the borders of Sacramento. Already Rivkah been twice to a Syrian refugee camp, and plans to return. "It’s been a remarkable experience," she shares. "They have libraries and I went to see if there’s anything i can do to help." To that end, she gave workshops on early childhood literacy, as well as ones with volunteer librarians who are themselves refugees.
Listen in to this inspiring and compelling give-and-take.
For nearly two decades, Dr. Richard Bernstein has had a thriving Socrates Cafe at the Ethical Culture Society in Teaneck, New Jersey. As he said in a New York Times feature about Socrates Cafe, "Everybody has to deal with ultimate questions about why we're here and what's a good life and what's the meaning of life given the inevitability of death. Most of the time there's not a clear forum for discussing things that are very philosophically important, to give one's life a better sense of meaning and clarity.'' Thanks to his vibran Socrates Cafe, diverse participants in the Teaneck area have now had that clear forum for years on end.
It was a joy to have a chance to pick the brain of this incredibly thoughtful and generous human being. Dr. Bernstein studied philosophy at Yale before going on to medical studies. His interests as a physician, as well as life itself, have a decided philosophical and existential dimension. In the tradition of William Carlos Williams, he is truly a doctor who cares about his patients in all dimensions, including "what it’s like to experience illness, how do we alleviate the suffering emotionally and socially that people have, and the isolation."
He wisely notes that "while we all play a role, it’s not a big one, and we have to just realize our limitations in terms of how long we’re here, but to nonetheless make a contribution that will have some lasting value to others even after we’re long forgotten as individuals." Dr. Bernstein speaks meaningfully about legacy: "We want to feel we have done something meaningful with our time, and defining what that is is something we all have to struggle with."
Here's the link to the NY Times article I mentioned: https://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/13/nyregion/in-person-socrates-new-disciple.html
Also be sure to have a look at this excellent essay of Dr. Bernstein's, "Lessons from Socrates Cafe":
Nearly every day of the week features an observance day of some sort. So I picked several out of the hat, threw down the gauntlet, and asked the peerless donor engagement expert Christopher McGown to work his magic in coming up with ways to connect our nonprofit Democracy Cafe (DemocracyCafe.org) with these observances.
Voila and hey presto, as we riffed together, Chris came up, on the spot, with an array ingenious pitches that deftly and convincingly link our nonprofit Democracy Cafe with such observances as Celebration of Senses Day, Color TV Day, Sunglasses Day, World Music Day -- this one he hit not just out of the park, but out of the planet -- among others.
I must have done something good in my life for the forces of the universe to connect me with Christopher McGown. He has made such a difference in helping us chart a more vibrant course for Democracy Cafe, as we seek to bring it to the next level. In this and many other ways, he has been more of a godsend than he can know -- so much so that if my wife and I ever have a boy, I may just well name him after Christopher (oh, I know, the cynics will say that happens to be my name too, but let's leave them to their wild and unsubstantiated speculations...)
And while, as is my wont, I debatably have taken too much to heart Chris's insightful blog post on mission-aligned observances -- the link to that fabulous post is on his website is at:
http://clmcgown.com/2018/01/15/befriend-the-calendar/ -- the fact is that there likely are far more observances that an astute nonprofit staff can deftly exploit, for sublime ends that help it further its mission, than might initially meet the eye.
Listen in as Christopher McGown demonstrates this so masterfully on our latest Democracy Cafe podcast.
Stewart Harris, law professor extraordinaire and host of the wildly popular syndicated public radio program and podcast, Your Weekly Constitutional, believes we all need to be steeped in our supreme law of the land.
Here's how Stewart eloquently puts it: "The Constitution doesn’t belong to lawyers or judges or politicians. It belongs to every American. And to the extent that it captures universal human values, it belongs to all of humanity. And so I think we all need to know about it."
"We can’t protect our rights if we don’t know what they are," Stewart asserts during our wide-ranging give and take. "So that’s the first stage in making sure that our constitution does endure -- simply reading it and understanding it."
Listen in. And then listen in to Stewart's own podcast, which you can easily access just by Googling 'Your Weekly Constitutional.'