Seeking the Great Perhaps

“I am going to seek the great perhaps.” These were Francois Rablais’ last words according to his biographer Peter Anthony Motteux. Rabelais was a French renaissance writer, physician, humanist, monk and Greek scholar.*

I sincerely hope that none of us have to wait until our final words to seek the great perhaps in our conversations.

To me the “great perhaps” hints at what might be possible in the future, including when we engage in “good conversation.” Each of us is a part of the great perhaps, of what might be possible. And it is in conversation that we can explore and create it becoming greater than the sum of our parts.

There are possibilities that can only be found or created when diverse individuals and groups think and learn in concert. Every person has something of value from which we can learn or that will help us move the cause forward (understand and solve the problem, achieve the goal). In the web of relationships that gets woven in interactions, an intelligence or wisdom grows that differs from and is more than what resides in any individual. It reflects the great perhaps.

I recently asked a group how they describe good conversation and not so good conversation. Some of the words they used to describe good conversation included “energizing, empowering, sincere, deep listening, being willing to be changed by the conversation, ‘we’ focus—not ‘I’ focus, and something new happens.” (In the May 31 blog I characterized good conversation in similar ways.)

Contrast these words with how they described bad conversations: “competitive, judgmental, superficial, make you feel incompetent, own agenda—me only, not listening, irrelevant and awkward.”

The characteristics of good conversations are essential to seeking the great perhaps, especially “something new happens.” How do we support something new happening in our interactions? We support something new happening in the group by listening deeply to others and ourselves, asking questions to deepen our understanding of our perspectives and those of others, investigating the topic at hand, and opening ourselves to changing our minds and hearts. We ask ourselves what might be possible and what we most care about.

In addition, we mark the moment when we start to man our battle stations because someone’s perspective differs from ours. We pause and take a breath when we start to defend our position vociferously, as if our life depended on it. The door to the great perhaps starts closing when we close our minds and hearts to others, to their perspectives and to the realities of the topic at hand. We open the door to the great perhaps when we open ourselves up to what might be possible through good conversation.

* Thanks to John Green for introducing me to these famous last words in his best selling novel “Looking for Alaska.”

Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available.  Click here to purchase it.

2 thoughts on “Seeking the Great Perhaps”

  1. Mary, thanks for reminder about the importance of stepping aside at critical moments. There was something about this blog entry that reminded me of conversations at IA all those years ago. Not a specific thing, but it was good to look back and to now and think about how important this concept is. Peace…

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