It would be very unfair to start off without honouring the art of hosting and harvesting that has inevitably changed our patterns of conversation ever since its inception.

The art of hosting and harvesting has come a long way, and this wouldn’t have happened without its stewards and practitioners who never stop losing hope, which contradicts my belief of hope being a terrible thing on the scaffold.

Though we have commenced on a minuscule scale, taking into consideration the world population, the aftermath is ground-breaking and jaw dropping to practitioners. Even the stewards, who have practised this art for a very long time, are never left out from those amazed.

For those avid readers out there, the art of hosting is a process that can be well explained by the ground-breaking four-fold practice, which is the heart of the art of hosting. The first and initial requirement from this four-fold practice is that we must be able to “be present”. Being present means showing up, undistracted, prepared, clear about the need and what your personal contribution can be.  It allows you to check in with yourself and develop the personal practice of curiosity about the outcomes of any gathering. . Failing to achieve this could hamper our ability to host conversations. The second fold is “Participate and Practice Conversation”, under which we need to be willing to listen to others fully and respectfully, without judging and thinking that you already know the answer. The third fold is “Host Conversations”, whereby participants need to be courageous, inviting and willing to initiate conversations that matter. They need to find and host powerful questions with the rest and then make sure they harvest the answers, the patterns, insights and wise actions. The fourth fold is “To Co-create”. The willingness to co-create and co-host with others (community of practitioners), blending knowledge, experience and practices with theirs, working partnership is needed.

The four-fold practice has inevitably helped better conversations. But unfortunately, every newly-introduced process comes with its challenges that can be prevented. Prevention is better than cure, but what use is prevention when we aren’t aware what needs to be prevented. The challenges of the art of hosting can be classified into three themes. They are “Tools and Materials”, “Cultural Hierarchy” and “Personal Practice”. Each and every challenge arising from the art of hosting has a minor or major effect on the art of harvesting, which never goes unnoticed. Each of these themes has almost an equal number of challenges that need to be improved upon.

The “Tools and Materials” lists out language as a challenge, which is undoubtedly true. All conversations are marked by language. Conversation via language has lived from times immemorial. Almost all conversation groups face the language problem, also the translation problem. A particular language may not be understood by the participants of the group and so there should be at least one participant with the ability to translate what the host is verbally conveying to the group. But, translation can be a challenge too, as people may thoroughly understand a language but may not be in a position to translate it well. Vocabulary too serves as a challenge. There are times when the host uses new words or phrases or technical terms (if he is talking about a particular topic) while conversing, only to know that he has left the group in the dark. Therefore, it is a necessary requirement for the host to speak in simpler terms that proves to be understandable by all. What also proves to be another challenge is the pre-determined expectation of outcome of a group conversation related to an important topic/question, which is very unhealthy if we are to have good and healthy group conversations. The art of hosting gives an opportunity for all to be heard and not everybody shares the same ideas, values and beliefs as the host. So the host needs to be aware of this and respect all feedback being given by the participants. As I type down the next challenge, I’m laughing, because that challenge is boredom. When boredom strikes (and no you don’t click a selfie), your facial expressions and body language undergo change that is easily noticeable. Sometimes, conversations tend to have no breaks and serious topics are discussed upon. This could lower human interest and cause boredom to dwell upon participants. It’s not possible to go on speaking and so breaks would be helpful. Also, in order to make it fun a few jokes or pickup lines could be used to entertain and lighten the bored mood of the participants. Ever thought of expressing symbolically? This is possible via musicals, dance performances, puppet shows and so on. Sometimes, expressing something through the previously mentioned mediums emotionally arouses us. Without undermining the reach of the art of hosting, putting this before local people can be challenging too. What’s so challenging about this is to express it in their language, which practitioners may not know. Also, how to establish a rapport with them in terms of assuring them about the feasibility of this art is yet another problem. The process can be overwhelming and time-consuming, which are challenges by themselves. Overwhelming because it is new to people and they will have no idea as to what’s going on and this can potentially affect harvesting.

The “Cultural Hierarchy” lists out challenges that are community-oriented. I stated earlier that all conversations are marked by language, but what use is language if there are no people to participate! Finding people to get them involved in the process is a challenge because they may not be willing to be a part of it, which is another challenge by itself. Therefore, finding the right people to participate is indispensable, but yet challenging. So, depending on the kind of topic, the question always arises, “Will people join?” Sometimes, one of the reasons that people don’t participate in the process is because questions/topics of conversation tend to be confrontational. They have the potential to hurt people’s sentiments. For example, “Does God exist?” could lead to a lot of profanity and black and blue fights too, if there are participants who oppose God’s existence in a society that culturally believes in Him. But, we do need to keep in mind that we are human after all and we have feelings about almost everything. Therefore, it’s important to word questions right and responses given should also be worded in a manner that will hurt nobody. Community identity can affect the hearing of participants’ ideas and opinions. In India, the Brahmins are always ready to voice their ideas and opinions and don’t give the others a chance, neither will they listen to what the others have to say. If participants aren’t allowed to speak and listened to, this makes the process partially unsuccessful. But the challenge of implementation arises. Speaking and listening to each other is of no good if implementation isn’t going to happen. The meaning and use of harvesting is lost right there.

The “Personal Practice” theme lists out challenges that arise at a personal level. Having patience and trust in the process is challenging and it is highly important to inculcate that first in order to take it ahead. The participants need to be assured that it gives an altogether new meaning to conversation. For that, practitioners need to up their confidence and knowledge in this process. Criticism, however bad it may sound at times is vital for improvement. But people like Isaac Newton who was known for being sensitive about criticism never cease to live. This poses as a challenge to the art of hosting. The inability of a participant to take criticism could affect the remainder of the conversation and potentially affect harvesting. Similarly, having the courage to respond to challenges that may arise within the group is a necessary requirement. If there is something participants need, they should address it. There also lies the fear of inviting people into the process, which arises due to the reluctance and low interest of a particular target audience this process is devised for at the time, but normally all ages are cordially welcome. The last, but not the least out of my “limited” observations is the hidden presence of judgment that we have of other participants and their ability to engage in the process because sometimes there are some participants that could have a reserved nature and not converse much. One of the most important lessons in life is to never underestimate a person’s capabilities, for they will prove you wrong someday. The reserved person who doesn’t talk much may prefer writing over talking and may turn out to be a useful person. Therefore, without judgment and underestimation, all participants should be respected and let to speak and be listened to.