How To Bring People Together And Create Meaningful Memories

Everything you ever wanted to know about gathering strangers, colleagues, friends, or family under a variety of circumstances so they will connect and cherish the event.

Priya Parker is an expert in conflict resolution. Throughout her career, her work often required facilitating high-stakes meetings between different political leaders around the world. This helped her to collect first-hand experience about how we connect with one another and what makes a gathering meaningful. In essence that is what The Art Of Gathering – How We Meet And Why It Matters is all about. It’s a root cause analysis that identifies the levers to make an event become a lasting memory. Her premise is centered around the fallacy of the “chill host”. A chill host is overly concerned about the logistics of an event instead of caring about the people and their experiences. It’s the type of “hands-off” host who sits back on the night of the gathering. Parker argues the event starts at the moment of the first conception and it ends (sometimes) long after people have left the premises. A host needs to identify beforehand the “why” they’re really gathering. What meaning is to be conveyed by bringing a certain group of people together? Who to invite? Who to cut? And where would be the optimal environment to accommodate individuals’ preferences? A host needs to be disciplined, proactive and leveraging pop-up rules. 

An illustration of the former is about her first experience with the female period. When she was eleven years old, she got her first period – at a friend’s house. Insecure about it, she didn’t tell anybody, but went back home and told her mom eventually. Eleven is an age where beliefs and judgments correlate with people’s reactions. Her mom’s reaction to learning about her daughter’s first period was one of celebration. She danced, hooted, and hollered with joy. Inadvertently or intentionally, her mom taught her daughter that being a woman, the unique features that make a woman female, was something to be celebrated, cherished, and embraced. Her mom even threw her a period party. How about that! 

Whereas an example for the latter is what Parker coined “The Château Principle”. Thereunder the host needs to realize that the choice of venue is among the most powerful levers over the guests’ behavior. Her example revolves around the infamous failure of merger negotiations between the French cellphone provider Alcatel and the American telecommunications equipment provider Lucent. (Read this analysis for more details) Initially, both parties prepared the merger diligently in good faith and geared up to create a “marriage of equals”. To finalize the deal, both parties were supposed to meet in a nondescript airport hotel in New Jersey. However, when an Alcatel executive fell ill, they requested the meeting to be held in France in the Château Des Mesnuls, a renaissance style castle. While it’s speculation to find out the real reasons for the failure of the merger, a few Lucent executives recounting the negotiations observed how the château brought out the Frenchness of the French. Alcatel employees became comfortable asserting their dominance on home turf which reflected a certain arrogance and hubris that tipped the negotiations to fall apart. Location, location, location is real-estate wisdom that also applies to gatherings. 

Parker wrote The Art Of Gathering across 281 pages segmented into 8 chapters. It is a quick and easy read yet I found some paragraphs could have been edited more succinctly. Her voice can come across as overbearing or patronizing, but I view this as part of re-learning a part of my life that I neglected for far too long. Notably understanding gatherings as social contracts with certain responsibilities is incredibly helpful. In addition to offering practical tips on how to discover, structure, and select event details I was surprised by how easy it seems to translate her findings to cyberspace, e.g metaverse gatherings in virtual reality or group events and chats on Facebook. Anyone quite interested in the subject of crowd psychology will be able to fill in knowledge gaps and view certain aspects of their social gatherings through a new, fresh lens. 

Book recommendations ebb and flow. Some find me by chance. Others are the product of premeditated research. The Art Of Gathering was recommended to me by my dear friend Nichole. The story of how we met goes beyond the scope of this blog, but I will document this: it was under the most random, endearing, and meaningful circumstances crammed into one weekend somewhere around Seattle. Flying boxed wine bags, neon lights, and deep, mind-absorbing conversations included.   

In case you are not into reading an entire book on the single topic of bringing people together then I would recommend watching this video. Parker says “how we gather is how we live”. How do you live your life? 

The Golden Gate

Vikram Seth’s novel in verse will make you remember that your worries are all about things that merely sustain life, but love, passion, and the beauty of nature are what we live for.  

The Golden Gate found me as I was browsing boxes filled with old books on a flea market somewhere in the Inner Sunset. I picked it up out of curiosity. I bought it because I wanted to read more poetry. I found it refreshing to read poetry that is something different yet familiar. Familiar in the sense that it speaks about my city – the place where I live, love, and linger (sometimes at the expense of my plentiful responsibilities). Here are some notable verses that let my mind wander:

“Subdued and silent, he surveys it–
The loveliest city in the world.
No veiling words suffice to praise it,
But if you saw it as, light-pearled,
Fog-fingered, pinnacled, I see it
Across the black tide, you’d agree it
Outvied the magic of our own.
Even tonight, as Ed, alone,
Makes out Marina, plaza, tower,
Fort Point, Presidio–he feels
A benediction as it steals
Over his heart with its still power.
He thinks, “I’ll phone Phil. No, instead,
Better to write him, as he said” ”

“From the tall overlook, the indented
Shoreline extends in cliffs and bays
And promontories through the scented
Wind-sheared sage northwest to Point Reyes.
Northward, Mount Tamalpais lowers;
Southward, through leather fearns, wildflowers
–Tangling and twining through the lush
Confusion of coyote brush
And winter weeds–the blue Pacific,
Unwrinkled as a pond, defines
With wharves and cypresses and pines
Three edges of the hieroglyphic
Of San Francisco, still and square
And sun-bleached in the ocean air.”

“Some claim the coast of California
Is seasonless, that there’s no snow
To flavor winter. Others, born here
Or fleeing here–glad to forgo
The option of frostbitten fingers
And housebound months as hoarfrost lingers
Upon the firs, less picturesque
Than deadening, while from their desk
They’d stare past dark eaves fringed with icicles
Well into March, and scarcely dare
To breathe the east or midwest air–
Now yield, with tank tops, frisbees, bicycles,
Dogs, cats, and kids and tans and smiles
To spring’s precocious warmth and wiles.”

Reading The Golden Gate was a struggle, but after a few pages, the eloquent rhymes create a harmony with the storyline that is indescribable but captivating. Read it cover to cover or take a slow and deliberate approach to each verse. The Golden Gate will deliver. Eureka!