The essential circle

Lovely friends,

There are days when I bump up against the same idea, over and over, and I just have to pay attention.  Today that idea is “the essential circle.”

This idea has “winked” at me at least twice today.  In our Intercultural Communication class, the students and I are studying “The Culture Code” by Clotaire Rapaille.  In this book, Rapaille refers to the family dinner table as an “essential circle” – one of those places where we gather in fellowship with one another.

Unfortunately, the “essential circle” of the family around the dinner table is becoming a thing of the past, like the circle families once formed around the radio or television set.  Within these circles, we enjoyed a shared experience, and chances are our friends were having the same experience in their homes: watching the same shows, eating the same kinds of foods.

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When I was a kid, my friends watched the same shows that I did (we got the major U.S. and Canadian channels), and saw the same ads for the same toys and clothes.  Our parents watched the same news broadcasts and variety shows.  At school and work the next day, we talked about what we’d seen and heard, and it was a shared cultural experience.

My second encounter today with the “essential circle” idea was when I came across this article about the Oprah Winfrey Show:

Remember when ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ made us listen to each other

The Oprah Show was another “essential circle” for many of us.  As the article explains, we could count on Oprah to host guests who were both familiar and new to us, and to explore their lives in interesting ways.  Oprah did her best to present broad and balanced views, and her show was “appointment television” for many of us.

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These days, it’s rare to name a single show that’s “must-see TV” for the majority of us.  We have so many choices, so many specialized genres to catch our interest.  We can no longer count on cultural similarity to create an “essential circle” in our lives, where we all gather around a particular event.  Sure, it happens occasionally (watching election returns, for example, or the Super Bowl), but it’s rare.

The “essential circle” is important to our emotional health.  It’s a place where we gather to share a common experience, to relax and unwind, to enjoy fellowship with one another.  We create our circles with friends and family, by sharing hobbies, by taking part in community events.  It takes effort to create and maintain these circles.

Where do you find your essential circle?


Winnie and the Professor



Love in an age of disagreement

Dear ones,

For those of us with passionate political and cultural beliefs, it’s a tough time to be on social media.  Do we engage with people whose minds are made up already?  Can we initiate a civil, respectful discussion without getting our blood pressure up?  And most of all, how do we resolve the cognitive dissonance of seeing people we love expressing opinions that seem uninformed or unfair?

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The contentiousness I see on my online feeds has me thinking about unconditional love.

Love without conditions doesn’t mean I love a friend despite their beliefs, or that I love them even though I think they’re wrong, or that I love them aside from our differences.  All of those statements involve a judgment – saying that “I love most parts of you, aside from these flaws that I find unlovable.”

That’s the way we do it as humans.  We draw circles that shut things out.

Can we learn to draw circles that embrace the whole person?  I think that’s the challenge.

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I’m recalling a poem by Edwin Markham (which I also knew as a camp song in my younger years):

He drew a circle that shut me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout

But love and I had the wit to win

We drew a circle that took him in

I’m struggling with this – loving without judgment, without excluding certain aspects of a person that I find “unlovable.”  I don’t know how to do it yet.  But I do know that this is something I should strive for.

I know that parts of me are hard to love, and I treasure those who are able to draw a circle around me anyway.


Winnie and the Professor

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