The power of the conversation network

When we network, it’s easy to think about it in terms of the people we meet. Who they are, what their job title is, who they know. The reality is that it’s a convenient model, and a dangerous short cut.

We never meet the same person twice at network meetings. Networks are a river of intermingling conversations, and as Epictetus said:

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Epictetus (50-135 AD)

Things have moved on in two thousand years. The truth of his observation remains, though today there are many more tributuaries to the river. Every person we meet is a temporary host of a thousand conversations that change from moment to moment; the media they read, their social network, their culture. When we meet, we are the hosts that enable thousands of conversations to mingle and create new ones which we each then take away with us and spread via our next network discussion.

Paying attention to what we read, who we listen to, and the effort we put into our interpretation and ownership of that becomes hugely important.

Spreading unvalidated or at least unquestioned information is as potentially damaging as going around hugging and kissing every person we meet during a pandemic. The least we can do is observe a form of distancing from what we hear, and use a mental mask.

Our values are the best mask. Our beliefs are (and need to be) more permeable and subject to change as we absorb new data, as long as we check them against our values. Right now, in times of rapid change and uncertainty, it’s just too easy to absorb things without checking, and spread things we would rather not.

The acid test is always, “is what I am about to pass on a good reflection of what I value, and how I want to be understood”? Will it benefit who I’m saying it to, or will I regret it tomorrow?

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