Yesterday was a senior team awayday. We clear our diaries and go to the house of one of us for a day of asking questions, sketching answes, making plans. It’s time out, time to think. We began, as we often begin our meetings, by reading together for half an hour.
One of my teammates had been reading The Guardian article on meetings, and we were a little alarmed because she’d used the Harvard Business Review meeting cost calculator to work out exactly how much our day away from the office was costing us. Yes, good to know, we conceded nervously. Better be worth it, then.
In a context of value for money how come reading together for half an hour, or perhaps even as much as forty-five minutes, is good value? The Guardian article offers mindfulness as a possible way to help people become calm and productive and gives some examples of that practice in use. Shared Reading is similar (usually calming, often feels meditative) but because it is shared, and because it is words (ie consciousness) you get some thing else, too.
We are reading Janet’s Repentence by George Eliot. We often have only a scant half hour every two weeks, so we’ve been reading it pretty slowly. We seem to read just enough to give us something to connect through – a page or less each time. Yesterday we read a tiny section from Chapter 8, where My Tryan is visiting Mr Jerome to ask for his support on what is going to be a difficult public occasion. The Jerome’s little granddaughter Lizzie makes a surprise appearance:
It is a pretty surprise, when one visits an elderly couple, to see a little figure enter in a white frock with a blond head as smooth as satin, round blue eyes, and a cheek like an apple blossom. A toddling little girl is a centre of common feeling which makes the most dissimilar people understand each other; and Mr. Tryan looked at Lizzie with that quiet pleasure which is always genuine.
‘Here we are, here we are!’ said proud grandpapa. ‘You didn’t think we’d got such a little gell as this, did you, Mr. Tryan? Why, it seems but th’ other day since her mother was just such another. This is our little Lizzie, this is. Come an’ shake hands wi’ Mr. Tryan, Lizzie; come.’
We stopped to talk about the sentence about the toddling little girl: we all recognised what George Eliot calls the ‘centre of common feeling’ – we’d all seen it a hundred times on family occasions. That ‘centre of common feeling’ makes ‘the most dissimilar people understand each other’.
We stayed here for most of our reading time, thinking on what this means in practice. We talked about families and children and dogs and difficulties. In what sense do we ‘understand’ each other in the presence of a beloved child? This is understanding of the heart, some meaning that doesn’t often get put into words, isn’t it?
As we spoke, the book itself became for us – on our costs-a-lot-of-time business away day – what the little girl is in the adult conversation – ‘a centre of common feeling’. for any team trying to work together that’s an invaluable bit of equipment.
A little later, watching Liverpool beat Roma on aggregate and win a place in the European Cup Final 2018, I sat in The Dovey in a room full of people singing to a TV screen and to each other and thought here’s the match, LFC, a centre of common feeling of a different sort, more primal, less personally revealing and involving no sharing of thought, only the heart-beat of the singing and the adrenalin of mock battle. Which was pretty good! We love the footy and our team, but do we love it as much for its powers as a conduit for our feelings of connectedness as we do for the footwork? Those feelings were powerful last night. Come on, Red Men!