#EndSmallTalk is no ordinary get-together; it is a campaign devoted to putting an end to conversational nothings once and for all. Or, at least, to make a start.
It aims to provide a venue for people to delve deeper, beyond simple pleasantries, to the topics that underpin our very existence: metaphysics, identity and purpose.
Lyne Ismail, who co-founded #EndSmallTalk with her friend, Farah Bushnaq, says the project first began as a “sort of joke”. “We were just sick of having small talk discussions outside of work.
“You get so ingrained in the everyday stuff – work, boring stuff, and this enables you to take it a step further and do something a bit more mind-engaging.”
Eventually, they came up with a basic list of questions, then conversation cards, and kept building from there.
“At the first event we discussed happiness – if happiness was a national currency, what would make you rich? The second one was about love, the third one was about technology.”
At the latest event – on a recent Wednesday – for the first hour the guests speak to one another, and then everyone comes together for a discussion with the moderator.
“Today is the same format – the only difference is we have a guest speaker. She has a very interesting story, and we’re basing the group discussion topic around that,” says Ismail.
The pair hope that #EndSmallTalk forums will grow organically. “We don’t set any restrictions; we say this is a space for having these conversations, but then what tends to happen is these mini-groups tend to form. It’s interesting as a social experiment.”
Guests arrive at The Space, in Abu Dhabi’s twofour54, after sunset. There is a wide demographic present, not just from different corners of the world, but from different backgrounds too – some sport formal attire, others bushy moustaches, thick-rimmed glasses and denim. While the majority are male, there is a healthy proportion of women present as well – young as well as middle-aged.
Everyone takes a small piece of cardboard, writes down a hashtag to identify themselves, and hangs it around their necks.
Attendees are then left to their own devices; to explore, question and meet people. The back of the room is festooned with pieces of string bearing small pieces of paper. A question is written on each, such as “Would you rather be a tourist or a traveller?” and “Where does intuition come from?”
In one corner of this question zone, #antisocial, #energyhealer and #ICan’tThinkOfAnythingRightNow are discussing mass consciousness.
“What would the perception of mass consciousness be?” asks #antisocial. “Are we all thinking the same thing, or are we all aware of the same amount of stuff, but perceiving it differently?” #ICan’tThinkOfAnythingRightNow says it is a difficult concept to imagine.
Luckily, an expert is present. He may be a computer programmer by day, but #energyhealer considers energy healing his passion. He says: “When you go into a room and you’re very happy, and suddenly you feel very down and you don’t know what the problem is, or sometimes you meet someone and you hate them and you don’t know why you hate – or like them – it’s because I can tap into your energy, you can tap into my energy, like sending information together.”
#ICan’tThinkOfAnythingRightNow says: “This makes sense,” before registering some scepticism. “But the thing is, have you felt it? Maybe you see someone and you hate them, OK, but maybe he reminds you of someone else?”
Somewhere between these two points of view, #antisocial feels the ideas are not mutually exclusive, and attests to the power of positive and negative energy. “It sounds kind of new-agey and strange,” he says, “but I can only say that 100 per cent, it is true.”
Seemingly eager to convince his audience, #energyhealer says: “You know, they did a scientific research about mass consciousness, where they went and took rats and from generation, after generation, after generation. They showed them how to traverse a maze, and when they died and they left their children, the children came and they picked up on the energy and they knew exactly where to go.
“On a constant basis, whenever you have your thoughts or emotions, you’re constantly sending energy, and there’s a place called morphic field [that] you keep on sending your energies to … People usually tap into that to get the energy, and it keeps on transmitting after generations.”
The idea of the morphic field blows everyone’s minds.
In the silence that follows, #ICan’tThinkOfAnythingRightNow poses another question: “I was thinking, what is consciousness altogether, anyway?”
Between conversations, the group evolves – new people enter the mix, others leave and some remain for the entire time. There seems to be no need for personal introductions. People take turns, and listen intently – responding in earnest, and making jokes as/when appropriate.
Just as the conversation about mass consciousness has run its course, #energyhealer pulls out a question he hid earlier–– is time a man-made construct? And the cycle of discussion begins again.
Later everyone takes to beanbags and chairs to listen to the guest speaker, Teeba Alkhudairi.
Alkhudairi recounts her life story as an Iraqi-Saudi child growing up in Riyadh; a biomedical engineering student; a Harvard MBA graduate; and a “chief hoop fairy”– Yes, that’s hoop fairy – after a trip to the 2011 Burning Man festival in the US changed her life.
“I saw my first hula hooper and I was just blown away,” she says. “The look on her face, the serenity, the fun – just everything about it, the childlike nature, I just wanted to be like her.”
When she moved to Toronto she researched hula hooping and found a “whole world and community of hoopers”. “I tried the hoop – after many fails, I was able to keep it on and I was addicted for many reasons. The hoop, for me, and this might sound clichéd, but it really has changed my life.”
Upon returning to Dubai, she eschewed a career in venture capitalism and set up her own hooping school, Flowground, instead; spurred on by the enthusiastic response to her hooping in public spaces.
As the questions pour in, some revolve around identifying a sense of purpose or passion. Others, meanwhile, ask whether its possible to make money from a passion, or if one should even try. “If you won the lottery,” asks one guest, “would you still do this?”
Alkhudairi replies: “I think the bigger question is, if I was told that I had to do the same thing every day of my life, just do one thing from day to night, and were only allowed to sleep … what would I do? For me, it would be hooping, or it would be something where I would teach, or coach others.”
Concluding, Alkhudairi says: “I would challenge you to look at the careers that you are interested in and, instead of thinking of the exact work, think about the why – why do I love fashion, or why do I love social entrepreneurship, or what attracts me about [management consultancy]? Then, when you find a common denominator, or find the principles behind that, that will create another list of questions and, maybe, open a pathway for you to find your purpose.”
• For more information on #EndSmallTalk events, visit www.facebook.com/endsmalltalk/. To enrol in hooping classes, visit flowground.com
Hareth Al Bustani is a features writer at The National.
Source: art & life