If you’ve been in business longer than half an hour you’ve probably been to one of those get togethers where the organizers encourage people to warm up to one another through an ice-breaking activity. By far the best I’ve ever experienced occurred during my recent trip to New Zealand with the Inspire group of transformational leaders. The trip was a joint production of Live Your List Publications and The Water Bearers, and it gave the 35 or so trip participants many classic moments. We had the opportunity to join in on some adventure and we spoke onstage at a rugby stadium before spending four days with an aboriginal community.
But how do you bring 35 people from around the world together and get them to know, like and trust each other quickly?
Four of our group members cooked up an inspired plan to do just that. Entrepreneurs Robin Bersson, Sandra Hanesworth, Tsao-Lin Moy, and Cindy and Tank-Murphy each run independent businesses and they have formed an alliance to support teenage girls who struggle with self-worth and depression. On Day One of 15 spent chasing around the gorgeous country of New Zealand, these ladies divided us into four groups, gave each group a list of tasks to complete and sent us off to get to know Queenstown, New Zealand, and each other.
Task #1 was to purchase two buckets of cookies from the Cookie Time cookie store and give them all away to strangers as random acts of kindness. That was fun and we met with a lot of surprised, and sometimes suspicious, looks. Then we had to take pictures of anything we found that illustrated 12 virtues the team had determined were important – concepts like courage, perseverance, service, etc. I want to give a big shout-out to Betty who runs Shark Attack in Queenstown Harbour for being so generous with her time and smiles, and for telling my group her beautiful business story of perseverance, determination, and success. We were impressed!
We had a ton of fun that first day together and I love the idea of keying in on virtues, rather than values. As Professor Iain Benson of the University of Notre Dame notes in much of his work on the subject, values are subjective and vary from person to person, culture to culture, etc. By contrast, there is ample historical weight behind the idea of the more universal concepts of virtues, which all people can perceive naturally, regardless of their religious or philosophical perspectives. I like the idea of looking back to the ancient philosophers for navigational aids to community building today.
Where this is relevant for writers and writing is the fact that we consciously and unconsciously embed into our language whatever is important to us, filtering continuously for the concepts that support our own model of the world. Our readers, by contrast, are busy reading and scanning written documentation for the concepts that are relevant to their own model of the world. That means it’s helpful to understand what is important to your ideal audience members – and, if you want to add another dimension to audience engagement, it’s an even better idea to also bring traditional virtues into your writing as well.
While much else was to occur during my sojourn in New Zealand, I think a lot of the mutual respect, adoration and affection our group developed stemmed from that auspicious beginning in Queenstown. We had fun – and we formed friendships that are sure to endure.