My association with Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS), a global network of scholars, practitioners, students, artists, and activists committed to advancing human dignity and ending humiliating practices, has been a gratifying source of renewal, fellowship, and friendship. Until recently, however, my only opportunity to engage in face-to-face interactions with members of this remarkable community has been through HumanDHS’s annual December workshop in New York City. This wonderful event has always left me wanting for more.
Now, however, a smaller group of HumanDHS community members has started meeting on a regular basis in New York for open-ended conversations about ideas and projects on broad themes of shared interest. I hopped on a Boston-to-NYC train to participate in the latest get-together on Saturday, and I’m very glad that I did. The planned three-hour gathering, with a dozen or so people meeting in a typically snug Manhattan apartment living room, spilled over our allotted time.
Our loose format starts with brief self-introductions that may include mentions of recent activities and life events. Sometimes the introductions themselves prompt deeper conversations. On other occasions the discussion will be gently guided by our unofficial convener. The topics vary widely, ranging from the personal to the global. For example, during an earlier meet-up, I was grateful for the opportunity to share the challenges that a dear friend of mine is facing in connection with severe interpersonal and work abuse. Saturday’s meeting, by contrast, included more talk about broader economic and political contexts and how we can promote human dignity as a chief framing concept for our society.
I realized after our latest meeting that we are creating our own version of a salon, a term commonly associated with small gatherings held at someone’s home, featuring conversations over food and drink. Salons were very much in fashion in New York City a century ago, organized by (mostly) left-leaning women who hosted discussions for intellectuals and artists, with libations offered to fuel smart and witty repartee. More recently, right before online discussion forums became so popular, the Utne Reader magazine promoted salons as a way of building community through conversation. (For more on that, see Jaida N’ha Sandra & Jon Spayde, Salons: The Joy of Conversation (2001).)
Our salon (if I may now call it that) is likely more serious in content than others, with tea and coffee supplanting alcohol as beverages of choice. It also reflects a conscious effort to grow the supportive community fostered by HumanDHS’s December workshop and social media outreach. As one participant characterized it yesterday, we are building an intentional tribe. In a world that cries out for more strong, caring connections with others, this is something to celebrate.
On a personal note, this was the latest in a lengthy stretch of out-of-town trips for both personal and work-related reasons. I looked back at my calendar book (yes, I still use the printed variety) and saw that I’ve been out of town during parts of almost every week since late April, and this will continue through the summer. My travel schedule and a ton of personal and work-related commitments are the main reasons why I’ve been blogging less frequently, but it’s all good. Every trip has been mainly about being with wonderful people.