The Art of Gathering

Brendan Largay, Head of School
Post Date: November 22nd, 2019
Brendan Largay

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

This summer, I asked the programmatic leadership team of Liz Gray, Minna Ham, Carlos Hoyt, Heather Woodcock, and Deborah Brissenden to read Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering. The book, which is described as both “a journey and a guide” to meaningful gatherings, helped us to consider the many ways we invite folks to gather—for a faculty meeting, in the classroom, for a book group, or even over a coffee—and focus on making meaning rather than meeting for meeting’s sake.

As we head into this Thanksgiving holiday, Parker’s principles of gathering are especially relevant. I cherish this holiday. For me, Thanksgiving has always been a celebration of the love of family and friendship, and a chance to reconnect with the loved ones who helped to shape the person I am today. My memories of the day itself are pictures extracted from a cookbook— golden brown turkey with all of the requisite fixings—mingling with recollections of laughter and good cheer around the table, and appreciation for a rare, explicit opportunity to offer gratitude.

As I look out at the world beyond my own family’s kitchen table and beyond the everyday here at Belmont Day, I am struck by media messaging that advances the trope “Brace yourself, the holidays are coming.” This sentiment gives me pause. The implication is that we must “make it through” holiday dinners—with the potential for conversations that uncover differing political views or social values, or simply a relative’s umpteenth telling of the same story—biding time until we might be “saved” by the numbing tryptophan of our turkey dinner or football.

The art of gathering is rooted in the benefits, both relational and neurological, of celebrating the differing perspectives of those that gather around your table. Parker offers that we rely too much on routine and the conventions of gatherings when we should focus on the distinctiveness and individuality of the people involved. Holidays bring people bound by their relationships to one another, and to you, together. At this cultural moment when coming together is more important than ever, I urge you to gather in the spirit of honoring differences and find the joy in them.

Gathering with purpose and intention really is an art, and also a bit tactical. It starts with knowing your purpose: why are you meeting in the first place? My hope is that for each of you, the purpose of gathering for the holidays is rooted in love and joy, and I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I look forward to seeing you all at the Thanksgiving Assembly on Tuesday, but for anyone I miss there, have a wonderful break.

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