About seven months ago while I was at the Ridgedale Library, I happened to come across a group of people who seemed to be having a very interesting conversation. So I walked over and asked what the group was about. They informed me that it was Socrates Café.
Socrates Café is a group of people who meet at the Ridgedale Library every Thursday from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. At the beginning of each meeting, all participants can ask a question to be discussed. Then after all questions are posed, everyone in the group votes to decide what question to discuss at that meeting.
That first night, when they asked if I wanted to join them, my first reaction was to walk away. Why should I want to walk away? The age of the group appeared to be between 20 and 60 and since I am 37 years old, I fit in age-wise just fine. The discussion the group was having made me stay around and listen. However, this was not a group I had heard about, and I was not sure I would fit in. Why would I not fit in? I have a disability and some speech impediments that accompany my disability. However, after about five minutes of listening to the group I could not just walk away from the interesting dialog that was going on between some of the people who made up that meeting of the Socrates Café.
Now every Thursday evening, I attend Socrates Café. Often the discussion becomes political without being intended that way. One week, one of the questions we discussed was, “Is there too much doubt?” That discussion ended up being carried over beyond the hour and a half meeting time. Many times we’ve moved the discussion of the question to Baker’s Square after the hour and a half was up. Not everybody goes over for coffee, but I try to go over as often as I can. This is also an opportunity to get to know people on a more personal basis.
When I first joined Socrates Café, there was some uncertainty as to how I would be able to communicate because I have speech impediments. My speech is hard to understand at times. I later learned there was some hesitation by a couple members the first time I met the group because they had not had any interaction with disabilities and were unsure what I could add to the group. By the end of the first meeting, feelings had changed. I felt positive when I heard this because I had made an impact on some people who had had some misconceptions of people with disabilities. Now every week when I go, I feel like I am a big part of the group because I am able to share my knowledge and learn from others who are a part of Socrates Café.
During one of our weekly meetings I was asked to put my thoughts in writing. Why? People wanted to hear and clearly understand what I had to add to the discussion. I was happy to know that what I had to say was important enough to have someone speak up and have me put my thoughts in writing. Soon after I began doing this I noticed that some of the people seemed more at ease when I had a comment to make or a question to ask.
About two months ago I was asked if I would be comforfotable using a lapboard to write down my thoughts. I said if it would make people able to understand me faster, I would try it. Using a small dry erase board has opened up the doors of communication. The group is now asking me more questions and I am doing more than just listening.
Most weeks I offer up a question to be discussed. As of this point, nearly discussed by the group. The question that was discussed that evening was “Is there too much knowledge?” My question posed was, “Why are home contractors hard to work with?” During our discussion about too much knowledge, I asked another question,
“How do you judge knowledge?” After this question was posed, a lively discussion began. This does seem to happen a lot of times, when people in the group have a philosophical question, comment, or point to add to the discussion.
During one of our discussions I said that my being a part of the group has made an impact on some people in the group. One person spoke up and said that they disagreed about my comment, stating that “we all learn from each other and disability is a non-issue.” Some people have changed their views about how much I have to offer, but I believe that happened by the end the first meeting I attended. First impressions are not always the best or accurate. You have to get to know people and give them a chance to see what they have to bring to the table. At Socrates Café, everyone brings something different to the discussions. I am no exception.
Watch for more information about Socrates Café in future editions of Access Press.