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2012 Discussion ideas -- add yours!

Here are a few ideas to get us started with discussion ideas for 2012.  But we need more!  Add yours in the comments section.  Feel free to look back at posts from previous years to spark ideas.

We will collect as many ideas as we can Jan. 2-5.  Then we'll vote on the top 12 from Jan. 6-8.

You do not have to lead the discussion on an idea you suggest, but you certainly may if you wish.  If you see another idea from another person that you'd be interested in leading the discussion on, please indicate that.  Also, if you have ideas for guest speakers or other visitors, the sky's the limit here.

So here are a few preliminary ideas. Add your own ideas, and feel free to flesh out any of these or take them in a new direction if you like:

1)  What is money?
Based on an episode of This American Life called "The Invention of Money." This could cover understanding some basic economic concepts as well as philosophical approaches to what money means/does to people, how it should be handled, and how we as individuals and societies relate to money. Current data show that the millennial generation may be developing habits of thrift reminiscent of those found among the Depression-era cohort -- what does this mean? 

2)  What is happening to men?
From the cover of the Atlantic to the recent Muppets movie, Americans everywhere seem to be soul-searching about "failure to launch." Women now outnumber men on college campuses, and some studies show that women in the youngest generation are out-earning the men their age. Three-quarters of the jobs lost during the recession were lost by men, in sectors like manufacturing and construction that are less likely to bounce back.  One result is an increasingly lopsided marriage market; another is a national fixation on prolonged adolescence.  Has the feminist movement had unintended consequences for men, or are there other factors causing this demographic dilemma?  

3)  Is Politics the New Religion? 
This question comes from one of the findings of the recent book American Grace:How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which says that Americans are now more likely to change their religion to fit their politics than they are to change their politics to fit their religion. I think the discussion could be done in a way that would steer clear of partisan debate of granular policy issues and focus on the social/psychological phenomenon and what it might indicate about the current and future state of religion, politics, and democracy (and perhaps epistemology too) in America. (Idea submitted by Dave Ward)

4)  Is Google making us dumber? or smarter?
A perennial question as we continue to sort through implications of the digital revolution. There is evidence that our neural pathways are changing to adapt to the sheer volume of available information. On the one hand, this can hamper our ability to recall information, and the multitasking encouraged by the internet makes it harder to focus for long periods of time.  On the other hand, experienced internet users may have more advanced decision-making skills and complex reasoning.  What are the pros and cons of the deluge of information facing us daily?  How do people handle it all, filter what is useful? What about internet/media addictions?  What are the issues at stake in the ways search engines personalize searches, including privacy and polarization in our political discourse?

5)  The Arab Spring
What is happening in the Middle East?  What cultural and political factors are at play?  This might be a great topic for a guest speaker who can give insight beyond the headlines and really pinpoint the relevant issues.

6)  The artistic process.  
What is creativity?  Is it a gift or can it be learned?  How does the creative process work?  Where do ideas come from, and how are they developed?

7)  Do we want to do anything election-oriented since there is a presidential election this year?  Or would be we be better off avoiding politics?  Any thoughts about this?

8)  What other ideas do you have?  Think science, art, ethics, religion, health, relationships, music,  policy -- maybe something in education? globalization?  The sky is the limit!  Leave your ideas in the comments below, and indicate whether you'd be interested in leading any of these discussions.


  1. This is Matt C. I like questions 4 & 7. Since this is an election year, I agree with Allie that we should discuss elections at some point. If we decide to do that, here are a few questions we might consider:

    Are there any elements of our presidential election process that need "fixing"? Should the same states get to lead off the voting every cycle? How should the "lead off" states be chosen? Should there be such a thing as "winner take all" states, or should all states award delegates proportional to the number of votes a candidate receives (as is the case in the early voting states this year)? What are the pros/cons of a long election cycle? Could the US benefit from having a shorter cycle (like England, for example)? Finally, to run for president successfully costs millions of dollars. What are the pros/cons of essentially requiring candidates to have that much money?

  2. I agree with Matt, we would do well to discuss the election. It may be worth two months of discussion to cover what he suggested and then to actually discuss the candidates their political philosophies and who might best serve our country.

    I also like items 1-6.

    Some other thoughts we could discuss:
    -Human Trafficking, aka slavery, is alive and thriving in our country and elsewhere. What can we do to help stem the tide.
    -Earth Stewardship: What are we doing and what more can we do to better care for this great gift of earth. How can we better articulate and persuade those who don't see the value in doing so without putting them off. How the choices we make in this area have affected us and will effect us materially, socially, emotionally, and physically.

    Thanks Allison for taking charge of this.

    Most Thursday's would work for me. That's the only other day besides Tuesday that would—not counting Friday and Saturday evenings.

  3. This is Matt C. again. I also love #4. I know we're not voting yet, but I just wanted to throw that out there!

  4. Here are some ideas that could fill a couple hour discussion - are they too specific? IF they are of interest to anyone, then I could expound before people have to vote on them.

    1. Forgiveness and its relationship to Non-Linear Time.

    2. Parenting: How to foster Core Competences that lead to successful Adulthood.

    3. Emerging Adults Finding Authority. Is it avoided or denied?

    4. Speaking Truth to Power - Examples and the implications for everyday life.

    5. A culture of Isolation. Why are we in Siloes?

  5. I like 3, 4, 6, 7. Another idea: I've been reading lots of studies and hearing about people going to grad school to 'quantify happiness.' The HBR did a recent article, "The Science Behind the Smile," and other similar pieces discuss the science behind happiness. I have a friend who might be able to lead this discussion.

  6. 5, 4, 3, 2, 9, 10, 14, 11, 16 and 7/8 - Would it be possible to combine 7 & 8 to talk about the election process a bit and then discuss the upcoming election?

    Perhaps we could have people represent the 2 different parties in a non-confrontational way and highlight what they view as the core issues?

    Mitch and I would be willing to help lead a discussion once we narrow the choices. Thanks, Allie for getting this going!


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