Whimsy and studiousness from a nice lady who lives in Michigan and loves Objectivism.

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Name: Amy
Location: United States

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Advice for Running an Objectivist Study Group

I recently received a very nice question from someone who was looking for advice on starting an Objectivist club. My response is below, but if you have any other advice, please feel free to comment.
  • Decide where you will hold meetings - at your home, school, library, restaurant banquet room. The best place for audio/visual is at home, or library as some better libraries have projection/video equipment, etc. Although, some restaurants have wi-fi.
  • Do you want to cook and serve meals, or have meals to buy; do you want to be able to watch movies/lectures or just listen to them on a portable stereo/laptop, etc.?
  • How long do you want the meetings to run? Mine runs from 530pm to around midnight, with dinner included at home. If at a restaurant or library, your time will be limited.
  • How often do you want to hold meetings? I have mine once a month (I go to school and work full-time), and we hold it on a regular schedule of every 4th Saturday of each month.
  • Are you building a club from scratch? Then you need advertising and a website and/or a blog - best places to get the word out include, ARI, Noodlefood, MySpace, Facebook. Post, spread the news, get on blog rolls and get listed. Talk to people at work, etc. We have about 15 people who have attended, with the average group size being around 6-10.
  • I suggest creating a good name for your group, preferably one that can be abbreviated and used as an acronym. (Great Lakes Objectivists, or GLO.)
  • Something that I haven’t done yet, but will soon, is create business cards regarding the group, and have members take some to give out.
  • Have a clear vision of what topics to present. Don't always rely on printed materials or books - Ayn Rand lectures and ARI videos are free on the ARI site. Don't expect attendees to read or study anything before arriving, unless they are very enthusiastic and driven. Plan your topics as far ahead as possible. Balance your meetings between tangents and scheduled topics. I find what works is 35% scheduled topics and 65% general conversation and tangents. I keep any audio-only materials to under 30 minutes.
  • No matter how tempting, try not to stray from your scheduled topic. This is why I only use 35% or less of the meeting time. It’s important to stay on track, but give ample time to general conversation. Ideally, I want attendees to anticipate and become excited about a topic and learn something, but I also want to give them freedom to interact and allow them to bring something of their own to the table.
  • I created a simple website with the topics already planned out in advance. I plan to do this for 3-4 month blocks.
  • For audio materials, I also listen to the audio ahead of time, type out notes, and give out copies for people to read along with. This keeps everyone from zoning out. If we are studying a general idea, like the Benevolent Universe Premise, I compile quotes and make print-outs.
  • I occasionally read an article out loud or have someone else read aloud, but I limit this for the same reason I limit long, taped lectures.
  • I encourage everyone to bring print-outs of their letters to editors, blog posts, etc. This encourages everyone else to speak out, as we really need to do right now.
  • Depending on how interesting and intensive a video lecture is, I try to keep it to an hour, or break it out into two parts, and usually don’t hand out notes in advance. I always keep aware of people’s interest levels, and if someone is getting tired, I wrap it up and continue next meeting.
  • When playing a tape/CD or DVD, if anyone wants to stop the lecture and ask a question or make a comment, I usually have the policy that we will stop and talk, but encourage anyone who does this frequently to write the question or statement down, so we can review it after. If this happens a lot, it can be disruptive.
  • When discussing things in general, I am diligent in tracking who's turn it is to speak. Or if someone starts to say something and is interrupted, I make sure we go back to that person.
  • In general, I find that there is less unruliness and more focus if meetings are held at home, as people consider themselves as “gracious guests.” It also gives more reality-basis for screening people (before entering your home), which I do by asking a new person to answer a question form I have online.
  • My general approach and set-up for social interaction and learning is that no one is there to show-off or intimidate or grill another participant. Philosophy meetings are not contests to see who is the smartest or cleverest, or who can quote directly from "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology." Objectivism is a philosophy for living on earth. We are gathering to learn and encourage each other in thought, life and activism, and to celebrate each other’s accomplishments. If we have someone who really doesn’t get this, or has a fundamental disagreement with Objectivism, we discuss it with them after the meeting, or during the meeting, if it’s not disruptive (or if it's absolutely necessary).
  • I am very fortunate to host a wonderful group of people who are rational, friendly, funny and gracious. Of course, I would not be able to do what I do without my husband, Robert. And many of our attendees are my friends and “adopted” family who not only bring gifts of food, but gifts of rational thought, wisdom and inspiration. Having a study/social group is very, very rewarding.

I'm happy I received a question on this, otherwise I wouldn't have written down my thoughts. And having written them down, I'm fairly impressed. I like being a host, because I like spreading wisdom and joy to those who appreciate it. And this is the one thing I'd like to add -- remember that the primary reason people come to meetings is to see other people appreciate ideas, and to express thanks to them for simply being out there in the world. I recently received this same reaction from a co-worker who told me, after learning that I study Ayn Rand, "I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad you’re out there." Putting aside all those awkward and alien moments spent with people in general, here is a moment that makes it all worth it.

And a second special thanks to my Husband, Robert, for whom my meetings would not be as delicious AND thought-provoking -- Happy 8th Wedding Anniversary as of tomorrow, and many more wonderful days ahead!


Blogger softwareNerd said...

Great post!

>>" Happy 8th Wedding Anniversary as of tomorrow,..."
Best wishes to the two of you.

November 25, 2008 10:05 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks SoftwareNerd! Glad you like my post, as I really appreciate your posts on ObjectivismOnline.

We had a WONDERFUL time for our Anniversary -- awesome dinner, gift exchange, and silly movie -- just perfect! (We need to have anniversaries more often.) :-)

November 26, 2008 12:05 PM  
Blogger Burgess Laughlin said...

Our local network, the Seattle-Portland Objectivist Network is described here:

That site also provides guidelines for writing an application for admission to SPON. That application process excludes most individuals who would not be a good fit for SPON.

Our main purpose by far is the enjoyment of like-minded people. A secondary purpose is education, mostly through impromptu discussion at the face-to-face meetings and online, through our SPON Facebook page. (Some SPON members are also members of here.

We try to keep in mind that some students of Objectivism are in the range of "philosophy for Rearden"; others in the "philosophy for Ragnar" range; and still others somewhere in between. All individuals in SPON are free to form their own special-purpose subgroups for advocacy or discussion (including discussion with "near-Objectivists" who are not members). We do not attempt to set one agenda for everyone. That wouldn't meet our main purpose.

December 13, 2008 8:39 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Burgess! We don't have enough attendees to start forming subgroups, or online discussion groups. Not yet. Hopefully very soon!

All the best to your group at SPON!

December 14, 2008 10:55 PM  

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