If Reality is Perception – What Else Can We Not See #3 #cong23 #reality


We largely experience and interpret reality through our senses but what energy fields exists beyond these, how can we access them and what do they mean.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Our senses and the brain interpretation help from our reality
  2. We are surrounded by energy fields
  3. These energy field could change our sense of reality
  4. We are still evolving

About Eoin Kennedy:

Ex teacher, marketing lecturer, startup founder, PR professional, events organiser, digital marketing head and currently working as a content strategist.  The slave behind CongRegation.

Contacting Eoin Kennedy:

You can follow Eoin on Twitter,  connect with him on LinkedIn or, email him.

By Eoin Kennedy

Sometime around 1674 Antony van Leeuwenhoek, the first man to make and use a real microscope, became the first person to observe bacteria and protozoa .  This might not seem like a ground breaking event but similar to the first viewings through a telescope it revealed entirely new worlds we did not know existed and changed our perception about reality.

Much of what we believe is real is directly connected to what we perceive and much of what we perceive is through our senses.  The Berkely Greater Good project defined it even further “What we perceive in any given moment is not only determined by sensory input, but by our personal physical abilities, energy levels, feelings, social identities, and more.”

Simplistically our perception of reality is formed by a muscle inside a bone casing that depends on inputs from our sensory organs – taste, smell, vision, hearing, and touch amongst other contested senses.

These sensory organs are unreliable, can be easily fooled plus they are quite limited.   Some animals for example can detect forms of energy invisible to us, like magnetic and electrical fields .

It would also appear that our senses and perception system might be blinkered in order to protect us or keep us focused on our more core function or put more succinctly by Jay van Bavel at New York University “The main goal of the perceptual system is to keep the brain alive, so you can pass on your genes,”

Let is also consider the claim that we only use 10% of our brains (this figure is hotly contested and criticised)  but with training our brains can perceive things that are otherwise relatively invisible so logically it stands that there energy fields or other phenomenon around us that could change our sense of reality.  At its simplest what would change if we could experience what animals can like sharks being able to detect electric fields, snakes seeing thermal images,  reindeers seeing ultra violet light, birds seeing extra colours, elephants with infrasonic sounds and Honey bees ability to detect the Earth’s magnetic field.

But what if there was more.   And if so how would we access it and also how might we evolve further in the future to do so.

Various religions has long relied on storytelling about spirits and energy fields that exist around even though we have little proof.  Could hallucinogenic drugs or entering trance like states where people report experiencing spirit guardians who guide them be real or simply altered dreams.  Ceremonies with the drug ayahuasca are rough experiences and its unclear are they opening up access to energy fields or simply deeply resetting the brain and allowing people to view deeper in to the mirror?

If everything is energy it holds that we are surrounded by energy.  Frequently this is translated as the presence of spirits.

Unfortunately despite lots of theories there is little tangible evidence and proof.  However we have all had that six sense of something positive or negative when we enter a certain room or a premonition of something to come.

There are also plenty of Out of Body stories especially near death experience ones.  Frequently these feature being to see/experience events in other rooms normally during operations or even being clinically dead. Science explains some of these as an output of the brain.

Personally I believe that our brains and sensory inputs are still at a pretty primitive stage of evolution.  Taking this a bit further there are energy fields flowing around us that in future we may be able to detect (either through enhancements or biological evolution) and equally in the future we will be able to interpret these energy fields.  I don’t see this as being able to see our dead parents but rather the core energy that once formed them but disintegrated once they died.

Currently we are very poor at both perceiving and understanding energy fields but acknowledging that we do not know everything and being open to new thinking and curious in our pursuit of knowledge could be to our benefit.  It has served us well in the past.  In Yuval Noah Harari book Sapiens he explains that what distinguished the European powers from other similar empires and lead to their almost global dominance was their embrace of ignorance and the desire to overcome it.  In this case it was seeking out distant lands and conquering them but the principle is probably reasonably similar.

We appear to be at a meeting point where quantum physics/multiverse theories seem to be intersecting with and almost validating Shamanism and more simplistic religious beliefs, that have long been ridiculed.  The evidence might already be there but we cannot process it using our currently understanding of what we believe is real.

For certain there is much more to know and understand about our reality and we should not just trust what our senses tell us.  Afterall we could just be stuck in a computer generated matrix.


Purpose – Why do we Wait so Long? #20 #cong22


Thinking about purpose for the first time on our death bed is probably the wrong time.  Children benefit from and have greater capacity to process these conversations than we think but we need to look deeply inside ourselves first.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Research tell us children benefit from having a greater sense of purpose
  2. Children can handle the introspection needed
  3. We should first ponder our value and purpose
  4. Don’t overdo it and forget the joy of living

About Eoin Kennedy

Chief bottle washer @ CongRegation HQ.  Ex teacher, Communications Director, StartUp Founder, Lecturer and now a Content Strategist in Pharma.

Contacting Eoin Kennedy

Through all the CongRegation channels

By Eoin Kennedy

For some it’s on their death bed, the result of a near death experience, the passing of a loved one, a bad health diagnosis, a trauma or even a job redundancy but frequently the only time we really ponder purpose, and the heavily related meaning of life, is in reaction to something life altering.   This something is normally adverse, often late in life and accompanied by feeling of regret of a purpose unfulfilled.

The treadmill of life, the expectations of others, being busy doing and general dream walking through life does not leave much space for pondering purpose.  At worst its not something that society and social order wants questioned especially with the lack of answers for the logical follow on ‘difficult to answer’ questioning about our very existence.  It’s also a difficult topic that involves quite a bit of introspection and so many of us chose to compromise and accept what life throws our way, as it dashes by.  This despite the growing body of evidence of the health benefits of purpose.

So if your death bed is a bad time to ponder purpose, when is a good time.

I have  mental picture (perhaps due to Hollywood) of Aristotle tutoring Alexander the Great as a Child in 343BC.

Aristotle’s belief that the final purpose for human existence was happiness and this happiness could be realized by maintaining a virtuous life is not something you would expect the conqueror of the known world to carry around with him but two things strike me profoundly.

  1. The impact of basic philosophy and the questioning of purpose could have on a young mind
  2. How much wisdom we have rediscovered but whose basis is over 2,000 year old.

When we talk about the future with children I often think that we are short changing them by asking ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’.  Why do we ask such limiting questions, loaded with external expectations, that have a profound impact on the course of someone’s life.  Are we protecting ourselves or do we genuinely believe that the young are incapable for the level of introspection that a deeper probing of meaning would entail.  For anyone who has suffered the endless ‘whys’ from a 4 year old will know they are naturally inquisitive.

The University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has written extensively about purpose and meaning as being among the fundamental building blocks of emotional well-being.  It points out that ‘research suggests that the development of purpose is linked to the development of identity, which peaks during youth. Thus compelling young people to cultivate a sense of purpose and adopt a vision of the world beyond oneself has profound effects over the course of their lifetime to come.’

Simplistically this and much additional research tells me that children not only benefit from an earlier exploration of purpose but are more capable of processing it than we think.  Our role as parents perhaps necessitates a rethink or according to the UCB Greater Good Science Center  “Because the only person to know and uncover your child’s purpose is your child, listening and opening the door to reflection is more important than pointing to any answers.”

Although the health benefits are clear, the number of children exposed to this thinking is low with the non-profit Great Schools pointing out that one in five teens report has a sense of purpose (against 40% of adults).

How to Foster A Sense of Purpose in Youth

Thankfully there is an ample supply of advice on how to cultivate purpose in youth, mainly as a direct result of the research that highlights the many positive benefits.

According to James Stanfield there are a few steps to help children find their purpose from teaching social and emotion skills, helping them learn about inspirational people, letting them know what they do matters and exposing them to variety.

The Dad’s for Life movement suggests the following steps

  1. Expose your child to various activities in an attempt to identify his or her strengths and passions.
  2. Take time to talk to your children about the issues that are important in your life.
  3. Be encouraging towards your child.
  4. Instil certain traits such as resilience, discipline, and self-confidence.
  5. Educate your child on the broader effects of his or her actions.

Indeed the Greater Good for Action centre in Berekely has a whole set of resources to facilitate the discussion and Confident Parent Confident Kids gives great direction on how to talk to teens about their purpose and creating the right environment.

Most of these seems to be an evolution of or a reskinning of the main tenants of the Japanese practice, ikigaiwhich helps to find purpose.  At its core it is refreshing simple and explores 4 key areas to uncover self-knowledge and meaning

  • Passion – what you love
  • Vocation – what you are good at
  • Mission – what the world needs
  • Profession – what you can get paid for

My Own Purpose – Practice what I Preach?

I worked for over half my life in a profession that I rarely use to describe myself.  It was exciting, interesting and met a lot of my needs but cannot say it gave me purpose.  My current role in a pharmaceutical company offers more purpose but the distance to patients makes it foggier than its for front line medical staff.  I also find purpose in CongRegation but was unsure why.  Cronan McNamara captured it succinctly in his submission

“To describe the purpose of our company, we articulated the vision, mission and values of the company. These are all built on the foundation of the company’s purpose.”

However like most of us work purpose constitutes only a small piece of the meaning pie and I find greater purpose in my role as a father, husband, son, brother, friend, community participant and in sport/activity.

However many of these are temporary roles.  What happens when work makes me redundant, my children move out and on with their lives, my partner passes away, my family drift and I cannot participate in sport?  Do I fall apart and get stuck in the ‘what was the point of all that’ circular discussion.  Similarly if my purpose is too narrow and I achieve it.  What happens then?

Also some days I am completely fired up by purpose, other days I groan ‘why bother’ and wish I could pull the bed clothes over my head.

I envy those who profess to have found a true purpose but sometimes those with a unshakeable purpose can be so single minded that they can appear less human and a bit scary.  I doubt I ever will find true purpose or understand the true meaning of our existence but I am comfortable with it.  Always questioning, asking ‘the why and what’ are probably more important than finding the answers.  I am comfortable with this vagueness, the greyness and sense of a journey.  My life has never been tied up with a nice tidy ribbon, my impact will be modest, I try not to sleep walk too much through life and completely squander time the time I have.

Thankfully perspectives from other CongRegationers snapped me out of this potentially circular discussion. Will Knott would describe some of my ponderings as potentially mirthless – a humourless, grim, glum, moody and dour take on life – and forgetting the joy of just being alive.  Life is for living, we are not robots, purpose gives us guidance, they are a manifestation of our values but there are no answers.  Reading Tom Murphys submission I suspect I don’t know my true self well enough.  Ger Mulcahy defines his purpose in fairly broad terms, almost a philosophy for living and is something I could gravitate toward.

So back to children and purpose.  I truly believe asking them the big questions, helping them uncover their values, encouraging them to ponder their existence and aiding this with some guidance is a very positive thing.  It might mean we need look deep into the mirror an understand ourselves a bit deeper first.

Expecting them to have a ‘right answer’ is wrong.  An awakening and kindling of curiosity at an early age is probably enough.

#cong21 Leadership is not a destination submission

Leadership is Not a Destination #1 #cong21


Leadership does not have to be the ultimate end point.  Leaders should be able to move forward and step back and use their experience to grow within themselves and foster new leaders.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Leadership needs to be fluid
  2. Leadership has good, bad and ugly faces
  3. Leadership experience needs to be harnessed
  4. Enter Proxy Leadership

About Eoin Kennedy:

Ex teacher, marketing lecturer, startup founder, PR professional, events organiser, digital marketing head and currently working as a content strategist.  The slave behind CongRegation.

Contacting Eoin Kennedy:

You can follow Eoin on Twitter,  connect with him on LinkedIn. or, email him

#cong21 Leadership is not a destination submission

By Eoin Kennedy

You have probably hear the words before ‘I am now on the leadership team’.  Although I am truly happy for my friends and colleagues who achieve this lofty title –  through hard work, skill, determination, courage and skill, I am often uncomfortable with the sense of permanency.  The concept that leadership is a destination, an ultimate place to be, can also bring a set of problems.   It can demeanour the contributions of leading from behind and proposes a sense of rigidity that removes the flexibility to retire from leadership, whilst still potentially delivering more to the organisation.

The rise to Leadership, if it has only one directional flow, can sometimes be the wrong thing.

In order to explain what I mean I need to bring you through the good, bad and ugly of leadership.

The Good.

Becoming part of a leadership team from middle management to board level is an incredible experience.  It opens the opportunity to bring real change, to channel fresh ideas and experience towards crafting a new vision and building the structures for executing them through strategy and tactics for growth.

It is also a new learning experience.  Leaders are exposed to the raw mechanics of an organisation from financial, personnel through to technology.  They are offered control of the levers that can have profound impact on markets, customers,  the future of the company, the staff and stakeholders.  This power is very attractive and with it comes prestige.  Seeing ones ideas put into action is extremely gratifying, having it acknowledged within your organisation and by peers is additive and it being matched by financial rewards is intoxicating.

A sense of enduring camaraderie also exists within leadership teams, strengthened by the weight of responsibility it entails.

The Bad

The ascension to leadership, although a daunting experience, can sometimes be very underwhelming.  The necessary exposure to raw data from the tedium of financial spreadsheet, personnel issues to operational matters can differ from the high octane expectations.

Moving from the ranks of colleagues to becoming someone boss can sour relationships very fast.  The ‘them’ and ‘us’ perspective rarely gets beyond a short honeymoon period.  Leadership can involve difficult decisions and this can further compound the friction.  Former colleagues claim you have changed and bundle you with any negative connotations of management.  Knowing you are the source of chatter, something you probably participated in, can be very difficult.  This sense of isolation increases the closer you get to the top.

The role also comes with the burden of responsibility.  As a leader you need to make the best decisions for the organisation,  in fact you are normally legally responsible to do so, regardless of how unpopular it may make you.

Leaders rarely have the access to crystal balls and many decisions, although well informed, are made without knowing the true consequences and impact but they are still held accountable by them.

The Ugly

Sometimes organisation promote people to leadership positions purely out of fear of losing them, which in extreme situations can make a toxic person even more dangerous.

The struggle to attain leadership can involve many hard personal sacrifices so the notion of losing it can elicit bad behaviour.  A leader holding on to power beyond their best by date can sometimes focus their energy on maintaining that status  rather than channelling them into the good of the organisation.  Recent presidential elections have shown how this can be disastrous for an entire nation and beyond.  Battles for power at board tables tend to pander to ego rather than company benefit.

Camaraderie within leadership can also create a bubble that fosters group think which can ignore reality. Powerful individuals can quell divergent thinking and a lack of courage to confront wrong doing makes team leaders complicit in poor decision making.  Money, power and status are powerful drugs that can dull minds and be hard to ween oneself off.  Sometimes those in power starve all others of knowledge merely to stay in leadership, to the determent of the organisation.

New Mindsets and Models Are Needed

There are many different flavours of leadership and libraries overflow with’ how to’ text books on the topic but I am always struck by the notion that once a leader, always a leader.  The title is everything.  Why does the definition of success have to be leadership?  Does it have to be a one way street?  Let me explain with examples.

My wife is a healthcare professional and took a leadership position which was recognised as a manager.  She experienced much of what I described above and made the decision to return to her previous position as a regular staff member.  In her current role she undoubtedly acts a leader, something acknowledged daily by her colleagues who turn to her continually.  This is mainly based upon her vast years of experience but also her willingness to challenge seniority due to her commitment to deliver the best care to the patients she serves.  She undoubtedly makes her managers job easier but without formal acknowledgement.  To me the shackles of formal leadership mean the service has missed out.  Her story is not unique.

I also worked with one multinational who operated a ‘reduction in force’ whereby someone could rise to leadership position, which in this case brought with it the glass fronted office, but could at a later time return back to the regular pool of the windowless desks.  Although to some this was viewed as a fall from grace or not being able to ‘hack it’ but to me it was eye opening.  You could gain leadership experience and contribute but also bring that unique experience back to doing your job even better.  Why does a leader have to paid more and pampered better than those who prop them up.  Surely having someone to guide you on a leadership journey who has been there before can only make better leaders.  The wisest person does not necessarily need the title but neither should they suffer lower status or financial reward.

I have had many different experiences of leadership.  As a board member I have had to digest and trawl the data, make decisions, contribute to overall company objectives and lead a team.  As a founder of some start ups I co-lead lead a teams of two.  This served me well as an independent consultant, acting as guiding ear to other leaders, aside from the core service I was contracted to deliver.  My experience meant I understood the difficulties of their role and my independence meant I could seamlessly drift, almost like proxy leadership.  As a father I have floating leadership with my wife. In my current role I am a team member with no formal leadership role.  However I believe my previous experiences mean I can take the dual role of being lead and actively support those in the leadership positions.  This is made easier by the ‘service leadership’ perspective taken by the person I report into.  I understand what I have been insulated from by some else taking the leadership mantle – frequently hours of meetings and translating company policy into meaningful instructions.  Future leadership might be in my future or I might lead from behind but either way, having previous leadership roles means I am better at my job.

My story is not unique.  I have many friends who have gone from leadership roles to team members.  What I witness is leaders who struggle with how to manage them, knowing they could do their job, rather than how to harness them to make themselves better leaders.

My main point is this.  Leadership is something to strive for but it should not be viewed as the end point.  It should not be that static, with the only next desirable position being the next step up the ladder.  Nor should it viewed as a game of snake and ladders where the only route down is punishment.  It should pulse and surge according to ones life stage, energy levels and desire to leader.  Rather than a bell curve it should follow the innovation s curve.  True ‘service leadership’ is potentially hampered by rigidity of tenure.

I would like to propose that formal leadership can be fluid with ex leaders becoming ‘Proxy leaders’ who can lead from behind or ‘transient leaders’ who merely stepping back and return later to the role.  We just need to make it attractive.

Change is in the Air – Let’s not Waste a Pandemic #35 #cong20


As we awaken from a slumber and sleep walk through life, can we create a better society.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Change is hard to start but once moving can unlock greatness
  2. Science fiction help us see the future
  3. Look to the past for inspiration
  4. Society is about us and we can change it

About Eoin Kennedy:

Ex teacher, ex-entrepreneur, ex-communications consultant and now a Conversation Design Strategist with Novartis.  Infinitely curious.  The one to blame for CongRegation.

Contacting Eoin Kennedy:

You can follow Eoin on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

By Eoin Kennedy

Most of my conversations with people about the theme of ‘Society 3.0’ generally illicit a reaction of interest and recognition of its relevance in the era of vast change we have experienced over the last 20 years and the last 9 months in particular.

The next reaction is one of perplexion.   The theme is an open call for what type society we wish to live in.  Sounds simple, especially as we have skin in the game but it causes genuine difficultly.

Clare Dillions submission offers help in structures to use to come to the answer, rather than the answer, which reveals a lot to me.

We struggle with this topic because we rarely consider it, in its entirety.  At CongRegation huddle in 2018 I witnessed a very articulate group struggle with a challenge of what would make a better future, instead stepping back and trying to formulate what makes them happy.  The collective answer was ‘doing things for people in their community’.  What I took from this was that it takes time to unravel what we really think, feel and want.  We don’t wake up with a nirvana of what society should like – its just too big, challenging and ever reaching or as Dermot Casey’s and others reveal in their submission, its ever changing and evolves.

The covid crisis, despite its terrible physical, emotional and economic consequences has awoken any people from day dreaming through life.  Many are evaluating why they accepted spending hours in wasted travel to work, how much time they lost to family time, how little value money has when you cannot spend it, how they should be paid, the true value of front time workers among a litany of other areas that were just accepted with a shrug of the shoulders.  As news of a vaccine sparks renewed hope of a return to normal, it also potentially heralds the end of challenging the status quo, as Emma Burns points out.  All change is hard and sometimes it takes drastic external factors to initiate change.  However as many revolutions have shown, despite create promise and hope generated in heat, can pitter out as the hot coals cool to ash.

Starting with a blank canvas can be very intimating. It hard, takes great mental effort and does not always ponder the past.  We have been here before.  However we get one shot of our short time on the planet, and while it might seem easier to be guided like puppets with predefined roles and rules generated by others, the reality is we should and can have a say in how we spend our time here.  If not for us, then for the next generation.  While not as dramatic as those who stood by while atrocities took place, abdicating responsibility for the society we live in and frequently complaining about it, is not probably the best use of the incredible opportunity we have been given.

I often think science fiction is a easier route to tease out what type society we would like to aspire to.  In the Star Trek episode ‘The Nuetral Zone’, the US Enterprise D discover and revive three cryogenically frozen humans from the late twentieth century.  Many of the encounters between the 24th Century Starfleet and the humans (whose descriptions of 21st century lives, aspirations and norms we can easily recognise) are entertaining and it’s easy to ignore the irony while immersed in science fiction.  One quote from Captain Picard to Ralph Offenhouse which explained their sense of purpose resonated with me “A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.”  The 1 minute clip below is worth a quick view to get a sense of one possible central tenant of what a future society could look like.  Simple guiding principles can guide complex behaviours.



Just ask yourself if a future society looked back at how we live our lives and treat others, how would they view us.

If I go back the opposite direction I see  Éamon de Valera, the then Taoiseach of Ireland’s vision of Irish society commonly called the ‘The Ireland That We Dreamed Of’ on Raidió Éireann on St. Patrick’s Day (17 March) 1943.  Love it or hate it was at least an articulation of a future society.  Michael Davitt has even more radical views of what a 19th Century Ireland should look like, which inspired Gandhi amongst others.  The list goes on.  They and many other have taken the time effort and frequently suffered greatly to improve the society they witnessed in an attempt to improve them.  Strong leaders are important but we cannot abdicate all the responsibility to them only to throw rocks from the side line.  In fact its frequently the second and subsequent people to engage in a movement that activates change as the famous Dancing Guy video eloquently narrated by Derek Sivers shows.


The more recent Global Irish Economic Forum in 2009 or the Farmleigh Gathering was good model of collaboration and spirit for progress buty was too economically focused, exclusive and did not continue to question by continually evolving.  Although there were some successful outputs from it, the notion that we can bang heads together, come up with ideas, do a few things and the walk away from it, does little to make long term changes.  Companies and business, imperfect as they are, can be better at planning, execution, measurement, reviewing and adapting to change.  Imagine what we could achieve if we took a fraction of these evolved methodologies and applied then to the broad arena of ‘Society’.  On the contrary if we leave the evolution of society, we will end up in a very frightening place.

Alternative approached sometimes need a brave step.  In 2011 Iceland effectively crowd sourced its constitution.  These things take effort, can be very unsettling but can inspire the best of our mental capacities.  However they are not nice neat bundles and we need to be comfortable in being uncomfortable if we are to progress and really create a society that can be truly reflective of the best of the human spirit.

In an era of great comfort its easy to fool ourselves that we have reached some sort of Zenith or peak of civilisation.  The stories of Easter Island, demise of the Roman Empire and other lost civilisation should serve as a warning.  As many of our Maslow-esque needs have been met we are relatively easy to control.  Many pursue the accumulation of power and wealth as a single aspiration of greatness while the vast population sleep walk through life while been drip fed by consumerism and comfort which serve to dull any notions of challenge.  None of us are immune and those at the fringes of thinking are treated with disdain or considered as weak, if they challenge powerful forces.  Frequently an awakening comes too late as people face death and ponder what they have done with their lives and what society they leave behind.  Can we have this revelation when we can still make a difference rather than pass into whatever lies beyond with a sense of regret.

Humans are messy, complex, contradictory and I hope still at a relatively stage of evolution.  When we focus on self or neutral family only we rarely do the broader society much good.  Left to our own devices we could easy follow the script from William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’. We can show incredible empathy and despicable selfishness.  When we pursue the very attractive and powerful forces of power and wealth we frequently become corrupted by them.

At a global level we have very different competing models of society, characterised by the US democratic model against the Chinese collective model.  Both have merit at the principle level and both are wrong.  Whether a hybrid emerges and improves upon the previous models is uncertain.

Times of crisis can bring out the best of humanity.  But how much of a crisis do we need.  We face the current environmental crisis with our heads in the sands, like watching a car crash in slow motion.  Does it take the invasion by an alien race to awaken us to an appreciation of a common sense of humanity and global society.

The current Covid pandemic has awakened us from a slumber.  Whether we treat it as a bad dream and go back to sleep is up to us.  Let us not waste the memory of those who suffered and died by not improving our worlds and taking action towards a collective Society 3.0 and beyond.

Have we Lost the Art of Chat? #31 #cong19


Communication is key to sustaining communities and creating a collective sense of purpose.  The solution could be simpler than we think and small actions to participate more and embrace conversation will enrich both ourselves and the community.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. We need patience for old school conversation.
  2. Communities need a sense of purpose.
  3. Listening is as important as talking.
  4. Small changes can have far reaching impacts.

About Eoin Kennedy:

Communicator, trainer, entrepreneur, digital marketer and founder of CongRegation.

Contacting Eoin Kennedy:

You can follow Eoin on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

By Eoin Kennedy

As a child I have vivid memories of unprompted visits to my family home of relatives and friends.  For each of these my mother had an uncanny ability to muster up a feast of sandwiches while my family and I got a chance to hear stories of the past, updates on family members and usual selection of tall tales.  We also had one of the few phones when we grew up and calls were long, lengthy and concentrated with long updates and sense of connection.

This was brought back to me in sharp relief when my door bell rang I was genuinely confused about what the noise was, having heard it so infrequently.  In the currently world of only scheduled visits I feel we have missed out on random encounters and more importantly a vital channel of communications.  However with a quick flick of my phone I can get vivid updates on what friends, family member and the community are doing but its not the same.  Social media is good at projecting, abeit controlled by a faceless algorithm, what people are doing but its does little to connect we with what they are feeling and driven by likes it tends to favour a false sense of positivity than a balanced portrayal of what is really going on in people’s lives.

My mother grew up in a rural area and retained many of those cultural values. She knew the importance of micro updates and face to face chats.  I now live in a rural area but experience less and less of these.

So how does a community communicate with each other and how is it changing.

  • Chats in store and post office.I frequently remember being frustrated with standing in a long queues as a neighbour updated the harassed staff with updates on what is happening.  As shops naturally focus on efficiency there is less chance for informal sharing of stories.  It still helps but the local book store, where the pace is slow, tends to offer a better opportunity for shared updates.
  • This is a uniquely rural occasion where neighbours gather for a mass in a local person’s house and are offered a glimpse into each others lives and stores from the past.  I have only experience this once and its rapid decline is matched by the decline of mass in general.  Both unlikely to return.
  • The age profile of mass goers clearly indicates how the transfer of knowledge from parish notes and chats outside the church is likely to go.  Those who do attend tends to rush to their cars leaving elderly members to catch up with each other, shielding the young from stories.
  • At the mart.From what I can gather the weekly mart sessions still offer famers the chance to share a tea/sandwich with commerce playing a secondary role to social interaction.  However the part-time nature and absence of younger farmers entering the poorly paid profession means this will also decline as a mode of communications.
  • When you look at the ‘Strengthening Rural Economies and Communities’ report by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and the Department of Rural and Community Development an emphasis is put on the library system.  The report shows little in terms of how a community should communicate but is heavy on the supports and money spent.  The local library system is incredible but aside from posters, flyers and the occasional event it is under utilised in what it could achieve in helping to enable the rich flow of information.
  • Local community voluntary groups and Sporting groups. Every community has a vibrant selection of community groups from old age to Tidy Towns and these are a hive of people working together to improve and keep the community alive.  As Dermot Casey points out in his excellent submissionparticipation in these activities is what counts.  Merely by working together stories, introductions and genuinely caring are easily enabled.  Sporting groups especially the GAA, with parents waiting idly by to watch their children learn new skills, connects people from different walks of life and transcend the barriers than new entrants into a community find hard to penetrate.    The GAA, in particular in a move from a sporting organisation to its root in a cultural one, recognises this but it can tend to be a hard silo to break if children are not sporty.  All these rely on volunteerism, something that is difficult in the era of both parents working and the daily grind.
  • Yes funerals offer an unfortunate backdrop of community forcing people to reengage with each other.  I had the unexpected task of helping to dig the grave for a deceased uncle in law.  Although it may sound grisly it allowed me to meet neighbours, hear their stories and acted almost like an initiation ceremony to acceptance with neighbours I had never met.  Stories that would have been lost as memories faded were shared and I got a glimpse into daily life.  The small stories are what count the most.  Love it or hate it religion, priests, ceremonies and structure based on tradition have a strong role in keeping communities together.  Messages of love, respect and spirituality have been heavily rocked and challenged with a decades of abuse stories.  The institution may never recover but in moments of emergency, despair and tragedy the can still offer hope and solace.
  • School pick ups. Another great source but the 15 minutes of pick up time, pressures to get home to do homework and both parents working limit its potential for coherent conversation, mostly made up of top level ‘any sceal’ or ‘hows things’.
  • Coffee chats. Cong has a very small population for the range of coffee shops and hostelries, mainly supported by the volume of transient tourist traffic.  Since I moved here the season has expanded to 52 weeks from a summer focus.  The benefit of this is neighbours come out more to meet for coffee and I look in envy at groups of mothers gathering for chats after walks in the forest and sharing stories.
  • Community Centre. I have had the pleasure of assisting with the local community centre.  Thanks to local efforts and government assistance we have an incredible resource, something that was enabled by genuinely civic minded individuals who, to paraphrase a common start up community statement, ‘ate glass’ to make it happen.  Community days and groups act as a central locus for an amazing set of activities.  As a group we struggle with the best way to communicate the activities.  Websites, Social media from Facebook to messaging platforms like WhatsApp are a boom but they are more unidirectional (not exclusively so) and not everyone uses them consistently despite the numbers of smarts phones and accounts.  Postering and flyers are also highly effective as we dash by in our cars but are wasteful and I recently discovered are contrary to some Tidy Town rules.  Community centres themselves are difficult things to get right and rely on voluntary committees and strong executives and staff for their continued ability to thrive.  Financial demands and active engagement by the community are hard things to balance.  Merely having one is not enough to help drive sense of community and I am as guilty as the next person with not supporting consistently.  Excuses abound from tiredness, work, pressures of a young family but they feel like ‘the dog ate my homework excuses’.  All I know is that when I do actively engage I get out more than I put in and the collective contribution makes the community richer, stronger and more vibrant.  I am pretty sure Maslow has a strong take on this.
  • Just Dropping In.Although I see my uncle in law quite a bit we rarely have deep conversations despite living in close geographic proximity.  However when I take the time to just drop in (as per the start of this submission), without the distractions of other people I not only get updates and insights on what is happening locally but also a rich, detailed and fascinating glimpse of what life looked like a generation ago.  What appear as rambling conversations can produce golden nuggest and happen organically as we talk.  These stories help me to peel back the layers of the onion of the complexity of community through stories.  As a ‘blow in’ I don’t expect to ever reach the heart of what drives the community but each layer offer another new insight.  Older people in the community are the dying source of this and I often feel we are in danger of repeating mistakes of the past by not listening enough to wisdom of the past – the elderly are the bastions of this wisdom.
  • The Pub.No shortage of these in local communities and oiled by alcohol, music and chatter these maintain communication in addition to many other positive and negative attributes (excess being one of them).  The local bar person probably has a better insight into what is going on in community than anyone else.   Access to this channel of communication is naturally hindered by the ever stricter drink driving laws and I fear the era of self driving cars will arrive too late for many to be of use for older drinkers.  My occasional trips to local bars are rewarded with a different view of neighbours I pass on the roads.  My saluting from a speeding car does not compete against a sustained chat in a busy bar.  For some this offers the only chance to talk.
  • Although a phrase borrowed from the US, a community gathering to discuss what is happening in a local community is extremely important.  They are also extremely rare and full of dangers.  No community is not facing challenges and all have their share of built up frustration.  Many fail on the first salvo of grievances and it takes a skilled chairperson to navigate them. Airing grievances should be welcomed and the ‘bursting of the boil’ can be needed to create a bed of understanding so a community can start to move forward on collective consensus based principles.  Not an easy thing to do and I am in awe of those who can truly listen, emphasise and build.  Frequently people just need to be heard.  Which bring me to a point that Alastair Herbert will cover in his submission – the importance of listening.  In an era of megaphoning and finding solutions, something men are very guilty of and women have a unique understanding of, listening is a skill that is in short supply.  Listening without precondition is important for humans – we were born with two ears and one mouth after all.  We all need to be heard and understood and sometimes it is enough.  It also means that we are better at communicating.  Businesses have now reverted back to better audience identification through Buyer Personas and Messaging Session so they can target better.  As community members we should remind ourselves of this.  How can we communicate if we don’t understand what is going on in someone else’s world.  I often think that well intentioned government programmes may hear the wrong things or not probe deeply enough before activating complex structures.  The short term thinking of parish politics and threat of losing one’s seat can sometimes create more problems than they solve.
  • Mass Communication.Local radio and print despite threat of digital communications are still powerful mediums.  The daily death notices is highly listened to but conversations with skilled interviewers fuels real world conversations.  However it is broadcast and at best achieving knowledge sharing.
  • Social Media.Primarily Facebook and WhatsApp for sharing updates.  The ease of use makes them indispensable coupled with a central website.  However the loudest voices tend to dominate (positively and negatively) and as public platforms people are careful about what they communicate.  The rise of WhatApp favours curated lists of recipients and the volume of groups can make them very cluttered.
  • All the others!

I am conscious as I write this of the corollary of what I am proposing.  The ‘valley of squinting windows’ is a reminder to me that people knowing each others business is a double edged sword.  There is a fine line between delicious gossip and caring updates on peoples lives.  People have genuine concern for privacy and becoming the currency of idle chatter can be hurtful and destructive.  It takes a strong person to reject, limit and challenge gossip.  Not every in a community wishes to actively engage and communicate, preferring their own privacy.

I see story telling and communication as key enabler of sense of community.  Business have also embraced this with many now moving to a sense of purpose model, something covered by Paul Passemards submission.  Scholarly research  into Sense of community points to the psychological sense of community encompasses feelings of belonging, identity, emotional connection, and well-being.  Others point to Membership, Influence, Integration and Fulfillment of needs and Share Emotional Connection.

All very cerebal but again to my simple mind we are in danger of disconnecting with each other by not fulfilling human needs of listening and communicating.

This difficulty sense of community is not a startling revelation and is potentially in decline. Macra na Feirme in its “Know your Neighbour” campaign makes it more granular where it found that not being familiar with neighbours is more prevalent in urban communities, with almost one in six saying that they do not know their neighbours at all, versus just one in 20 of people in rural communities.

Most online article and searches on ‘Community and communication’ are focused on how to communicate with communities from the outside rather than communities talking to each other.  They are viewed as a homogeneous things to be exploited somehow.  I fear that as we try to scale communication with greater efficiency we lose sight of what it is.  Communication is a sum of lots of different parts each building on the from chit chat to collective documentation.  All elements in the chain are important we should not forget our basic human needs.

Conversation is art form and sometimes the transfer of knowledge is secondary.  The process alone connects us.  You also cannot rush it.  To an impatient ear much conversation can appear wasteful and efficient, with a desire that the person would ‘get to the point’ sooner.  The best conversations take place when there is mutually respect, understanding, empathy and most importantly trust.  These take time and I sometimes think of it as a test and ritual – interest in earlier stages generally leads to more information.  This is perfectly human, we need people to be interested/concerned with us and not just see us a channel to information.  Although it can seem frustrating that it can takes so long to get the information we need, I feel we have lost our verbal/listening tastebuds and ability to savour the process.  In the era of 140 character micro updates, which by nature of their brevity are highly efficient, we have devalued the ‘Art of the Chat’.

The challenge can seem great but I reflect on some of last parts of Geraldine O’Briens submission which recommends small iterative changes.

Do one small thing, talk to one new person, listen better and participate more.

All these take energy and a fundamental change in behaviour but lots of small changes can transform communities and in this we will all benefit.