After Sandy

Thank yo u for hosting a Co mmunity Conversation !

Community Conversations provides an opportunity for people come together for thoughtful discussion and dialogue about their shared values as Americans— past, present, and future. Focused on central themes in American life such as service, freedom and democracy, Community Conversations allows New Yorkers to join in discussions that offer an alternative to received wisdom and provide the chance to take part in a shared national dialogue.
O ve rvi ew Community Conversations are stand-alone, text-based discussions led by a facilitator from the local community. Each toolkit includes a text that tackles an important aspect of American life and encourages community dialogue. Your Community Conversation should last between 60 and 90 minutes without interruption. Discussions should be guided by a facilitator and focused on the text and the theme. Hold your conversation in a room where a group of 10-30 participants can hear each other clearly. Use the tips sheets for host sites and facilitators included in this toolkit for ideas about how to encourage everyone to participate in the discussion. Faci litato r A good facilitator is the key to making a Community Conversation successful. The facilitator should be someone in your community who enjoys working with people, is interested in what others have to say, and believes in the merit of conversationbased programs. The facilitator does not need to be someone with an advanced degree in the humanities, but rather someone who has some experience leading open conversations and who is enthusiastic about learning how to facilitate. We encourage all prospective facilitators to attend one of the Council’s free facilitation webinars* to learn more about best practices for guiding successful and meaningful discussions. *Facilitators at featured sites must attend a facilitation webinar. On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake by William James Discussion Questions for On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake Tips for Facilitating Tips for Hosting Sample Schedule Participant Evaluation Keep the Conversation Going Partners page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7 page 8 page 9 page 10

Struc ture

In clu d ed in th is to ol ki t:

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


On Some Menta l Effe cts of the Earthquake by William James
Excerpt from Writings 1902-1910

William James wrote this piece in the immediate aftermath of the devastating 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. It was selected for the After Sandy toolkit because it touches on themes universal to communities recovering from disaster.

Two things in retrospect strike me especially, and are the most emphatic of all my impressions. Both are reassuring as to human nature. The first was the rapidity of the improvisation of order out of chaos. It is clear that just as in every thousand human beings there will be statistically so many artists, so many athletes, so many thinkers, and so many potentially good soldiers, so there will be so many potential organizers in times of emergency. In point of fact, not only in the great city, but in the outlying towns, these natural order-makers, whether amateurs or officials, came to the front immediately. There seemed to be no possibility which there was not some one there to think of, or which within twenty-four hours was not in some way provided for. Much of this readiness was American, much of it Californian; but I believe that every country in a similar crisis would have displayed it in a way to astonish the spectators. Like soldiering, it lies always latent in human nature. The second thing that struck me was the universal equanimity. We soon got letters from the East, ringing with anxiety and pathos; but I now know fully what I have always believed, that the pathetic way of feeling great disasters belongs rather to the point of view of people at a distance than to the immediate victims. I heard not a single really pathetic or sentimental word in California expressed by anyone. The terms “awful,” “dreadful” fell often enough from people’s lips but always with a sort of abstract meaning, and with a face that seemed to admire the vastness of the catastrophe as much as it bewailed its cuttingness. When talk was not directly practical, I might almost say that it expressed (at any rate in the nine days I was there) a tendency more toward nervous excitement than towards grief. The hearts concealed private bitterness enough, no doubt, but the tongues disdained to dwell on the misfortunes of self, when almost everybody one spoke to had suffered equally. Surely the cutting edge of all our misfortunes comes from the character of loneliness. We lose our health, our wife or children die, our house burns down, or our money is made way with, and the world goes on rejoicing, leaving us on one side and counting us out from all its business. In California every one, to some degree, was suffering, and one’s private miseries, were merged in the vast general sum of privation and in the all-absorbing practical problem of general recuperation. The cheerfulness, or, at any rate, the steadfastness of tone, was universal. Not a single whine of plaintive word did I hear from the hundred losers whom I spoke to. Instead of that there was a temper of helpfulness beyond the counting. It is easy to glorify this as something characteristically American, or especially Californian. Californian education has, of course, made the thought of all possible recuperations easy. In an exhausted country, with no marginal resources, the outlook on the future would be much darker. But I like to think that what I write of is a normal and universal trait of human nature. In our drawing-rooms and offices we wonder how people ever do go through battles, sieges and shipwrecks. We quiver and sicken in imagination, and think those heroes superhuman. Physical pain, whether suffered alone or in company, is always more or less unnerving and intolerable. But mental pathos and anguish, I fancy, are usually effects of distance. At the place of action, where all are concerned together, healthy animal insensibility and heartiness take their place. At San Francisco the need will continue to be awful, and there will doubtless be a crop of nervous wrecks before the weeks and months are over, but meanwhile the commonest men, simply because they are men, will go on, singly and collectively, showing the admirable fortitude of temper.

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Discussio n Questions for On Some Menta l Effe cts of the Ea rthquake by William James

How does James describe the people who bring order to the aftermath of the quake? What exactly are they doing? Is “natural-order making” particularly American, or human, or neither? Why does natural-order making usually lie dormant? Is it normally dormant in your community? Who were the natural-order makers in your community after Sandy? Did people come forward you didn’t expect or know before? What does James mean by the phrase “universal equanimity” present in San Francisco after the quake? In James’ view, what explains that equanimity? James says he felt reassured about human nature after the 1906 earthquake. Did you feel a similar sense of reassurance after Sandy? Why or why not? Why does James say there was a kind of cheerfulness after the quake? Does this ring true to you? Why, partway through this piece, does James start talking about loneliness? James says “mental pathos and anguish…are usually effects of distance.” What’s he trying to get at? Do you think he’s right? When describing how people responded to the aftermath of the earthquake, why might James also emphasize what the people of San Francisco did not do and how they did not react? James observes that “in an exhausted country, with no marginal resources” the idea of recovery would be more difficult. Do you think he’s right? Do you think in 2013 the U.S. has the resources necessary to recover from Sandy and other natural disasters? What is the “animal insensibility and heartiness” that James describes in the last paragraph? Do you think something similar was present after Sandy in your community? What did you learn about your community after Sandy that you didn’t know before? Many people felt more connected after Sandy, even amidst the terrible destruction. Could we create a greater sense of connectedness every day? How? What would it require of us? Are there similarities in the kinds of behavior that James notes and what you saw after Sandy? What do you hope your community will remember about Sandy 100 years from now? How might we mark the anniversary of Sandy in the years to come? Is service an appropriate way to observe it? Why or why not?
New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 | 4

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Tips for Facilitating a Co mmunity Conversation

Community Conversations are simple gatherings that encourage thoughtful, engaged dialogue using a short reading to foster discussion. The goal is a comfortable, lively discussion free of bias and judgment. We hope the following suggestions will help you create an inviting environment for you and your community. Pl an ni ng fo r th e Co nv e rsatio n
• • • • • • Expect a healthy conversation to last between 60 and 90 minutes. Read the text several times, paying attention to the parts that were difficult or that made you pause. These will be the places that generate the most conversation. Use the sample questions in this toolkit as a starting point for writing questions that will resonate with your group. Decide how you will begin the conversation. The first few questions will set the tone for the discussion, so think about what themes in the text you would like to explore. Prepare about three times as many questions as you think you’ll cover with the group. You won’t get to everything, but extra planning will help you follow the natural progression of the conversation. Plan a closing question or exercise that signals the end of the formal discussion, but encourages the group to keep the conversation going at home or among friends.

Ge ttin g Starte d
• • • • • Arrange chairs in a circle or semi-circle so that participants can easily see one another and be heard by all. Start by establishing some basic guidelines with the group. For example, “be respectful,” “make sure that everyone has a turn to speak,” and “focus your comments on the reading.” Introduce yourself at the beginning of the session and ask each participant to do the same. Keep introductions short. Begin by reading the whole text aloud together. This allows everyone to have the opportunity to hear a fluent reader and invites people with lower levels of literacy to actively participate. Plan an opening activity to help participants get comfortable: ask a discussion question and encourage participants to share their thoughts in pairs and report back to the group.

Aski ng Go o d Q u e stio ns
• • • • • • • Ask short, open-ended questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer. Invite the participants to interpret the text in their own ways. Focus on places where opinions may differ (not on facts that cannot be disputed). Look for ways to connect the subject matter to everyday life. Encourage participants to form their own questions. Prioritize keeping the conversation going over getting to all of your questions. Use the text as a neutral place if the conversation gets heated.

Li sten an d Le arn
• • • • • Focus on listening, not teaching. Be flexible and let your questions follow the natural course of conversation. Don’t feel that you need to ask every question you’ve prepared or in the order you planned. When the conversation in flowing, share your opinion last or not at all. Avoid answering your own questions. If there is a lull in the conversation, let people think about their answers before you move on. Look at the person speaking, and try not to cross your arms or legs. Address group members by their first names.

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Tips for Hosting a Co mmunity Conversation

Fin d in g a Facil itato r
• Find a facilitator who is a good fit for your group. (The host-site coordinator and the facilitator can be the same person.) The success of your conversation is highly dependent on the skill of your facilitator. o Look for someone who is open, friendly, and enjoys working with people. Your facilitator should believe in the program and share your enthusiasm for doing it! o Look for someone who is interested in what others have to say. Keep in mind, the facilitator is not there to teach the text or lecture on the topic, but rather to ask questions and let the group do the talking. o Look for someone who is willing to learn how to be a facilitator and can commit to doing the training webinar (if you are a featured site).

Re crui tmen t
• • Plan to begin publicizing your discussion at least three weeks in advance. The Council provides templates for press releases, fliers, and Community Conversation logos on our website (link). For public conversations, make fliers and post them at local libraries, community enters, coffee houses, school campuses, churches, veterans or union halls, and store bulletin boards. Be sure to get permission to leave or post fliers. Make every effort to draw a diverse audience to your program so that a variety of perspectives are represented in the discussion. If your conversation is for a closed group (staff, club, etc.), consider including the discussion at a time when you already meet, such as at a staff meeting. You may consider including the conversation on the day of a planned service project, either to start or conclude the project. Consider making fliers with the time, date, and location on one side and the text on the other.

Ro om Set-U p
• • • Be sure to choose a room with good acoustics so that everyone, including people who may be hard of hearing, can hear each other. Choose a room that is free of other distractions. Seat participants in a circle or semi-circle so everyone can make eye contact with each other. Create a welcome table with copies of the text near the entrance to the room. Provide nametags and ask participants to use their first names. You may also want to include other literature or pamphlets from your organization related to the theme of the discussion. Make more than enough copies of the text so that everyone has a copy. Invite participants to take an extra copy after the discussion and share it with a friend or family member. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going! Test any audiovisual equipment ahead of time to make sure that the volume is loud enough for everyone to hear. Don’t play off of built-in computer speakers—it’s difficult to hear in large groups and people may feel uncomfortable saying so. Provide light refreshments like juice, coffee or tea, and cookies. You can use the stipend to cover the cost of drinks and snacks. Make sure the facilitator has a view of a clock or other time-keeping device. If you are not the facilitator, seat yourself across from him or her so that you can easily make eye-contact.

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Wrap -U p
• Decide whether you will ask participants to fill out an evaluation form. Have copies on hand to distribute after the discussion has concluded. The Council has included a short evaluation form in this toolkit that you can use, or you can design your own. Be sure to share participant feedback, formal and informal, on the host-site coordinator evaluation form (provide link). Keep accurate attendance data for your own records to report back to the Council. The Council does not require you to share names or contact information of attendees. If you are a featured site, complete the online evaluation for host-site coordinators within two weeks of the event.  
New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 | 6

Sample Schedule for a Co mmunity Conversation

Planning Guidelines for Community Conversations

Introduce yourselves briefly -­‐ 10 minutes

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Use first names. Ask each participant to turn to their neighbor and share, in one word, a feeling they remember having in the days after Sandy. Then share one word describing how they feel one year later.

Read the text aloud -­‐ 10 minutes

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Ask one fluent reader to read the entire text. Suggest participants underline or make notes about parts of the text that surprise or intrigue them.

Check comprehension -­‐ 5 minutes

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Did everyone understand the vocabulary? Are there any phrases that need further clarification?

Discuss -­‐ 50 minutes

Focus on interpretive and evaluative questions: • Interpretive: What does James mean when he says X? • Evaluative: Do you agree with James when he says X? Why or why not?

Wrap-Up -­‐ 15 minutes

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What needs does our community still have after Sandy? How can we contribute to rebuilding our community one year after the storm?

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Participant Evaluatio n

Name: ________________________________ Email: ________________________________
Di d this co nv ersa ti on h e lp yo u to thi nk abo ut th is top ic i n ne w ways? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

Di d yo u le arn f rom yo u r pe e rs du rin g the co n ve rsatio n? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

We re you e n cou rage d to sh are yo u r re actio ns to th e to pi c an d tex t? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

We re o th e rs e nc ou rage d to sh are th ei r re actio ns to th e to pi c an d tex t? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

Di d the f acil itato r ask re le van t an d in tere stin g qu e stio ns abo u t the te xt an d top ic? Definitely Not Not really Possibly Somewhat Definitely

Ho w v alu ab le was it to you to p arti cip ate in thi s pro gram? Not at all valuable Not very valuable Somewhat valuable Valuable Very valuable

Ho w i mpo rtant is i t to hav e pro grams like th is o n e in you r co mmu n ity? Not at all important Not very important
Somewhat important


Very important

Do yo u pl an to tal k to frie n ds and f amil y abo u t the i de as rai sed i n th is pro gram? No Possibly Yes

Wo u ld you pa rti cip ate in thi s kin d of pro gram agai n? No Possibly Yes

Pl e ase add an y add iti on al com men ts ab ou t to day’ s Co mmu nity Co nve rsatio n .

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New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |

Keep the Conversation Going with Support from the New York Council for the Humanities

Explore more of what the Council has to offer! These grants and programs support conversation-based programming.

Rea ding & Discussion Progra ms for Adults Read and talk about books and ideas in a group setting

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Series of thematically linked texts over the course of four, five, or six sessions. Themes include: Growing & Aging, Muslim Journeys, Serving, Working, Making Sense of the Civil War, and Lincoln on the Civil War.

Tog ether a nd Unidos Family reading and discussion program for parents and kids

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A forum for parents and their 9- to 11-year old children to come together to talk about books and ideas. Six 90-minute sessions is co-facilitated by a librarian and a humanities scholar from the local community. Explore key themes in American life such as courage, freedom, and being American.

Project Gra nts Funding for projects using humanities to engage the public

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Organizations may design their own series of conversation-based programming about important humanities ideas or texts. Grants of $300 – $3,000 may be awarded.

Speakers in the Humanities and Spea kers in the Schools Lectures on humanities topics

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Over 200 humanities-based lectures on a wide variety of topics. Bring a lecture on democracy to your organization or school: -­‐ Matilda Joslyn Gage: Bringing Her Into History -­‐ Leadership in America -­‐ North Star Shining: New York State’s Freedom Trail – An Illustrated Journey Along the Underground Railroad

Visit us at for all program information, guidelines, and application forms. Any not-for-profit organization in New York State is eligible to apply for Council grants and programs.

New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


Co mmunity Conversations Partners


ArtsReady/South Arts

University Settlement Society of New York

Supported in part by a Special Chairman’s Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an Officers Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 |


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