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What should we talk about when we are told “not to talk about that”?

I was recently invited to talk to a group of community leaders and I decided to talk about one of the topics that I have been studying for many years: the emerging future. The presentation and the dialogue went well, even when of the participants said, “We shouldn’t be talking about that”.

I asked the participant –not in a confrontational way, but with sincere curiosity– what then should be the topic of a conversation among community leaders if we can’t talk about the future. The answer was clear and immediate: we should talk about “work” and about “practical things”.

I was tempted to ask the participants to raise their hands if they were over 18 to see how many “adults” were in the room. Obviously, I said nothing of that. I simply asked again, this time more firmly, what should be the topic of the dialogue if we can’t talk about the future. If, as it is clear, things are not working in the present and if the future is no longer a continuation of the past, why can’t we talk about the future?

I was not trying to “force” my presentation on the group. After all, what I was about to tell them I already knew it. I was more interested in listening to the group –most of them with college degrees and years of experience–, to see what they had to say about their experience of the tension between a present (almost) impossible to understand and a future (almost) impossible to anticipate.

My desires were fulfilled only up to a point because some participants “suddenly remembered” they had other meetings or places to go and others “suddenly” received phone calls they had to answer. A few decided to stay, and we had a good, solid, productive conversation.

Later, on my way back and with time to reflect, I understood two things. First, it was the case that participants didn’t want to listen to me or to talk about the future: they didn’t want to listen to themselves.

One of the participants told me that, despite his studies, degrees, and experience, in spite of all that and of his high position in the organization, he was still unable to understand what was happening in the community and. therefore, he was unable to respond in any meaningful way to the needs in the community.

In other words, that nameless feeling of sending that in the emerging future they will become obsoletes, instead of listening to that challenge, they decided not to listen, a natural reaction of protecting oneself by closing your mind, heart, and ears instead of challenging oneself in the new future.

Second, I also understood that if you are not in a safe, secure, comfortable place, it would be difficult for anybody to become aware of his/her adherence to obsolete ideas and of the need to mature as a person. And then I realized that I myself had to let go some of my own obsolete ideas.

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