Ever been in a room with a bunch of old people, preferably, old people from your community. You know the type I'm referring to, when you were younger your father or mother, may have dragged you to someone's home, and you'd file into the living room behind them, slowly shuffling from one elder to another, whispering greetings at them, making the rounds from one to another, until you escaped to the room of children where the hunger games would begin as dominance was asserted so that ownership of the ragged toys would be momentarily established by the toughest kid in the room. No? Well that happened, I'd imagine the fight these days is over the controller, wait, that's the 90s, middle class kids have their own cellphones today.
Well, as the children were crawling all over each other, and as the youngest adult in the room the adults were in, stood up to close the door to protect the elders from the din of the adults, I'd hear a familiar formula begin. It didn't matter who was leading the room, or whose home it was, or even which country they were in, these elders always began the meeting in the same way. I never stuck around till the end, so the beginning is what I'll be sharing with you.
The meeting began with the eldest person as follows:
May peace, mercy and the blessings of Allah be upon you.
First and foremost we give thanks to Allah that helped us to gather here for this meeting and made it possible for this to happen today.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am so thankful for all of you being here today to take part in this meeting. Which we hope, will have a fruitful result that will benefit our community/people/bodypolitic to improve or get the result they seek from this meeting.
This formula was then followed by each person present introducing themself, and their interest in being there today and the objective they sought. This archaic meeting format was a lengthy process I could never be bothered staying around for, and yet, a few days ago, when I met my friend who was kind enough to share with me the above formula for this post. I realized the simplicity and the beauty of it. In a cultural context, where intentions and actions could make the difference between life and death, this formula for a meeting had the power to put everyone on the same page, friend or foe alike. Could you imagine people being this direct and forthcoming about their needs? About their hopes?
The reason this formulaic meeting structure has survived the test of time and the pressures facing a diaspora torn by war is complex yet simple, traditions die hard, they're written into the cultural DNA of tribes, clans, organizations, and families. Whether they're used for the benefit of the group, or to their detriment, rests on the shoulders of those who speak loudly their intent, because I believe, that at some point in time, someone took the first step, and spoke up loudly, and in so doing, forever alienated children and adults, I'm just kidding, checking if you were paying attention.
But yes, they were brave, they spoke up, and a whole culture was impacted, probably until the people no longer exist.
What would you say, if you knew it would change the culture in your meeting room?