The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker made its way to the top of my reading list between two summer family reunions. This important book left me with much to ponder about these two very different events, let alone the parties, meetings, and conferences I find myself at or hosting during the year.
Parker, trained in group dialogue and conflict resolution, contends that much of the breakdown and ineffectiveness of any given gathering comes from the host’s failure to be clear about its purpose, to effectively open an event, to achieve its goals, and to end an event intentionally. This includes any gathering from a child’s birthday party to church council meetings to the Friday-afternoon work-week wrapup meeting, a wedding, or a funeral.
Parker unpacks the elements common to all gatherings, such as a guest list of inclusions and interesting exclusions as well, venue, welcome, the pacing of the event, to the farewell of the last guest. Each topic includes memorable illustrations of success and failure. Parker touches on the ‘wasteful’ meeting, optimum group sizes depending on the situation, human density within a space, and missed or ruined opportunities for healthy interaction.
At the heart of any gathering is connectivity. Parker is unequivocal in her belief that meaningful connection seldom happens on its own. She challenges hosts to be intentional for the kind of connections you desire for your guests. Knowing and trusting your guests to take risks can even lead to healthy, good, and even controversial conversations.
Ultimately, we are called to be good stewards of our time. Parker reminds us that creating memories, strengthening relationships, welcoming the other, and being effective agents of change in a work environment are all achievable even in small increments and will make for flourishing.
Parker invites hosts who are curious, willing and have a spirit of generosity to give this book a try. It is recommended for anyone who participates in bringing people together, whether within a home, classroom, workplace, community, or church setting. (Penguin/RandomHouse)