Monday, June 25, 2012

I Went To A Conference!

Now that I've gotten my Thunderf00t rant off my chest, I can talk a little about the CFI student leadership conference. Admittedly, I don't have nearly as much to say about this conference as I did about Women in Secularism. This is because I showed up halfway through the conference and then spent a considerable amount of time caring for Michael, who was actually quite sick. Neither of these statements are complaints by any stretch, though. I had a very good time.

The first talk/workshop that I was there for was the one given Saturday morning by James Croft. I will definitely be keeping my notes from that workshop for reference in the coming year. His advice was very practical and touched on a lot of points that I think are forgotten often in this movement. As both Debbie and Michael have discussed with me on multiple occasions, our movement is great at producing charismatic people, but not so good at producing leaders. The Saturday morning workshop focused on leadership qualities that actually go a long way to convince people. I especially appreciated the emphasis on empathy and connecting with audiences even of people who might disagree with us. Vitriol can be fun, it isn't always terribly helpful. I think that's one thing about CFI in general that I appreciate-- they tend to de-emphasize the senseless confrontations. Oh, and I definitely cried when he told the gay rehabilitation therapy story.

Elisabeth Cornwell gave a talk on the evolutionary psychology of emotion after lunch. I have a feeling that a lot of the already worn out conference goers were falling asleep at this point, but I actually thought her presentation was interesting. I'm not sure that it was completely relevant to the other topics that had been discussed up until then, it did make me think about my own behavior and emotions in my own life. Strange as it sounds, I quite appreciated that.

One of the strangely controversial presentations of Saturday afternoon was that of Andrew Tripp. A fair amount of people were iffy about having a white male give a talk on diversity and privilege and diversity. Frankly, I think it was a good idea. A lot of women and minorities in the movement know and understand the effects of privilege in or society and community. The ones who need convincing are the white males. If a Caucasian guy steps up the podium and explains the facts, it's a lot harder to dismiss him as being biased for that reason. I heard one or people complain that Andrew talked a lot of doom and gloom, but didn't present concrete solutions. Honestly, I don't think solution generating was the aim of the talk. It was a good run down on the situation that a large chunk of the population face everyday and that often goes unnoticed by the rest of us. That is surprisingly necessary. 

I missed the evening entertainment, but I heard it was... interesting to say the least. Michael and I could hear Jamie from the library, if that tells you anything. The two of us actually had a pretty interesting time despite not attending Jamie's act. A man from CFI Los Angeles who's name escapes me now (I'll slap myself for forgetting later) told us stories about the early days of the modern movement and of CFI. It's amazing how secularist groups tend to go through meiosis almost compulsively. At the conclusion of our discussion, we all expressed hope that the younger members of the movement will learn to forget the bad blood of the past that keeps us apart and learn to work together.

As always, the best part of the conference was the meeting of people. Brian Engler was especially kind to me at Saturday's afterparty. I can really relate to his general love for the movement. We talked about a lot of serious community issues, but I noticed that he was very good at withholding judgement, even of people with bad reputations. This is something I could learn from, I think. He introduced me to Reba Wooden that night as well. We talked briefly about Humanist celebrant training. Come to think of it, I think becoming a celebrant would be really cool. I haven't spent much time in the humanist side of the movement, but I really think I should. 

Again, I had a wonderful time. It was completely worth the insanity I went through to set it up. Even the ride back Michigan was great. To be honest, the time I spend with Jen, Jeff and Ed was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I taught them how to skip rather than walk. Hopefully, they'll incorporate HappyHappy into their life now. :)

One thing I will never forget is the Center for Inquiry itself. Here's what I wrote on my Tumblr on Saturday. I think it accurately describes my state of mind while I was there:

"This place…
…Is so perfect, so beautiful. It is a paradise of freethought and secularism. Within its walls is a monument in glorification of the human mind. Outside, it’s sunny and warm, far enough away from the outside world to be peaceful, but not so much as to be isolated. I never want to leave."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kropotkin,

    One of the people who was iffy about having a white male talking diversity was me! Despite Debbie's assurances otherwise, I still feel odd about doing it, but I feel like if I can, I have to talk about it when I get the chance to do so in front of a lot of people. It should be someone with direct experience up there laying down the word on these things, but unfortunately, that wasn't able to happen here. I would happily, happily step aside for a trans* person of color who wanted to talk about this stuff at any conference.

    In the case of doom and gloom without solution, you're right. As I said in my intro, in order to provide anything resembling a solution, I'd have to do a lot more groundwork-laying. And even then, solutions to the problem of systemic institutionalized racism, transphobia, and violence are not easily forthcoming. It's a process that is going to take a long, long time, and there is no one magic way to do things; there will be many different strategies, each created by marginalized groups to serve their own unique problems. A one-size-fits-all solution will inevitably privilege one group over another, and the problems will not be solved.

    Thanks for the shoutout, and the nice words!


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