Friday, May 15, 2015

Gearing Up as Group Lead: Ghosti 101

With another shibir soon approaching, perhaps one of the most rewarding yet challenging opportunities is the group lead seva. Pit with a group of sometimes complete strangers and tasked with making the interaction friendly in a matter of days, it's not a job for the faint of heart.

Thus, let's deconstruct one of the most basic responsibilities of a group lead: moderating a ghosti. Below are some tips coupled with examples in italics to better illustrate the point.

#1: Know your audience. Simply calling your group members before meeting them at the shibir can help ignite the interaction. Not only will it help in learning names, but it can help get a feel for where they stand in their samjan thus allowing for a ghosti guided more to something relevant.

"What do you like to do for fun?"
"What do you find most enjoyable about mandir?"
"What are you hoping to get out of the shibir?" 

#2: Priming the participants. This strategy requires the ghosti has been planned out in advance, but giving a heads up to the ghosti participants, especially if sensitive topics like niyam-dharma are to be discussed.

"We're going to be talking about our struggles with other haribhakto, so think of a situation where you had a conflict with another haribhakt and how you maneuvered it."

#3: Crafting the question. Open-ended questions are easy to generate, especially on the spot.

"What is agna?"

Unfortunately, they are the often met with an awkward silence. With so many possibilities, nobody wants to be wrong, especially in front of strangers.

Instead, try binary questions where the answer is either a yes or no. While the questions appear straightforward, they can generate ample discussion when wielded well.

"Can you follow agna without realizing it?"

Alternatively, try using questions with more than two choices, but tread carefully. More choices can create more confusion and the greater chance someone abstains from voting altogether. Allow for time to think out the choices.

#4: Respond to the response. Sometimes, moderators ask questions, but don't use the responses to build a point. Open-ended questions are frequent offenders for this problem, and doing so implies a failure to acknowledge someone's input.

Moderator: "What is agna?"

Group: "Things we follow. What Swamishri tells us to do. Something that will help us get moksh."

Moderator: "Great. Today we are going to talk about agna."

With a binary question, take turns asking each side of their opinion.

Moderator: "Can you follow agna without realizing it?" 

(2 voted yes; 3 voted no.)

Moderator: "Hasmukhbhai, why did you say yes?"

Hasmukhbhai: "Let's say someone becomes vegetarian. That's also Swamishri's agna, but they don't realize it."

Moderator: "Does anyone disagree?"

Lalubhai: "But how can you call it agna if you don't do it with understanding? You can randomly do something that happens to be in line with the Satpurush's wishes, but it's the understanding that defines agna."

#5: Acknowledge responses right/wrong. Not everyone will get the right answer nor should they. Ghosti is a shared learning experience, so don't forget to recognize contributors. Their input pushed the discussion further then where it was before.

Moderator: "Shivambhai, that's an interesting distinction and a very important point to note. Aksharbhai, thanks for sharing your insight as it's important to identify this common misconception when considering agna."

#6: Anonymize sensitive topics. Topics like niyam-dharma are newer easy to talk about let alone in the presence of those unfamiliar to us. Try using a method to remove names, like index cards.

"Think of a time where you did something you regretted later. Describe the situation on the index card in the few lines. When you are done, pass them up, and we'll review them together."

#7: Apply understanding. Simply having participants restate a point may not indicate complete understanding, so test with application.

"For Chaturmas, assume a kishore decides not to watch movies. Under what circumstances, would he NOT be following agna?"

#8: Schedule silence. When nobody responds, awkwardness joins the interaction, and it becomes irresistible for moderators to go into pravachan mode. Fight the urge by offering up periods of silence so that participants can ruminate freely without being pressured to offer up an answer.

"Let's take some time to think, and when you have an answer look up so we know you are ready to discuss."