Side Streets: Stimulating discussions of philosophy, politics, poetry abound in Colorado Springs
Featured in The Gazette and Written By Bill Vogrin
Craving an adult conversation about politics or poetry or life in general?
Looking for a place to express your deepest thoughts, be challenged on your beliefs or stretched intellectually by an opposing point of view in a nonthreatening, civil environment?
A variety of opportunities to think deep thoughts, politely talk and calmly debate issues exist across the Pikes Peak region, ranging from weekly sessions to twice-monthly groups to a limited literary series that begins in a couple of weeks.
One of the most intriguing is the Friends of Emerson group, which meets the second and fourth Thursday of each month and uses the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson as a springboard for an hourly discussion.
The group was founded by my friend Lucy Bell, the author, historian and retired teacher whose name is familiar to "Side Streets" readers. Lucy introduced me to the Brown Bombers, an all-black baseball team that recently was enshrined in the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. And she's host of the popular "Walk in the Woods" program at Cheyenne Mountain Park, which celebrates famous writers each summer.
Lucy started Friends of Emerson in December 2002 after discovering the 19th-century Boston-born writer-poet-philosopher as she was grieving the death of her husband, Oliver Bell. She was moved by Emerson's account of his grief after the death of his wife, Ellen. Lucy was inspired by his emotional journey, which he documented in his essays and poems.
Lucy put a note in her church newsletter seeking others who might share her enthusiasm for Emerson and want to meet.
The group was born and has continued with a dozen or so regular members ever since.
"He's so relevant to life today and what's going on," Lucy said. "We listen to his ideas and the conversation goes from there."
The group is free to attend and open to anyone "looking for somewhere to connect."
"It's philosophical, but not academic," Lucy said. "We have people from all walks of life, male and female, and all points of view."
Another great opportunity to talk literature with Lucy begins Jan. 24 when she hosts a winter version of her "Walk in the Woods" from 9 to 11 a.m. on three consecutive Saturdays at the state park visitor center. Participants will examine Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" with Lucy, who is a volunteer naturalist at the park. (Where does she get the energy?)
But don't worry about the weather. This "Walk in the Woods" edition stays indoors.
Another intriguing group is the Socrates Café, whose 25 or so regulars meet each Tuesday at the Monument library to talk. A different topic is discussed each week at the two-hour meetings.
"We have a candid discussion about major topics that people don't normally discuss in their working lives or family lives," said Hans Post Uiterweer, a Royal Netherlands Air Force retiree who has moderated the meetings since shortly after the group's inception in 2003.
"Anyone is welcome, if you can open your mouth while engaging your brain," Uiterweer said.
Engaging your brain is important. These are not Jerry Springer shouting matches. Or talk-radio bullying sessions. Civility is mandatory.
"We don't care if you are left or right, top or bottom, as long as it's civil discourse," Uiterweer said. "It's not about attacking others."
The Monument group is part of a worldwide network of hundreds of Socrates Cafés launched in 2000 by author Christopher Phillips, who hoped to foster a more "inclusive, open and participatory society" by sponsoring small group discussions.
In a YouTube video explaining his concept, Phillips said he was inspired by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates.
"It's not meant to be a lot of bombastic pontificating where people can say whatever they want and never support their view or where people can't follow along to what's been said," Phillips said, urging participants to engage in "compassionate listening" and then scrutinize and challenge what others say with a goal of arriving at a "final truth."
Uiterweer said his club sticks to those principles.
"It's an opportunity to talk to people who may not think the same way you do," Uiterweer said. "It opens up the mind a little bit."
The same principles guide six PILLAR-sponsored "Philosophical Cafés," which meet every weekday at locations across the region.
"Pick a topic, come in and discuss it to death," said Vickie Heffner, executive director of the PILLAR Institute for Lifelong Learning. "Listen to everyone's viewpoints and talk about it."
Unlike other PILLAR classes that include small fees, the Philosophical Cafés are free.
"Our mission at PILLAR is lifelong learning," Heffner said. "You learn from other people, listening to their opinions and viewpoints. This fits our mission perfectly."
Pick a group and everyone discuss!
Original Article here