Thursday, February 21, 2008

Junto

It's not often that I participate in a meeting that goes as planned. People are people: focus wanes, discussions deviate, off-topic subjects prevail. While meeting objectives are typically nailed, the route to results is roundabout. I enjoyed such a meeting today, one that reminded me of Ben Franklin and his Junto club (also known as the Leather Apron Club).

As I praised in a previous post, Poor Richard was an entertainingly eclectic, curious, witty and enterprising spirit. He was the inventor and proprietor of much, and an acclaimed author and business strategist. Franklin lavished philosophical exchange; his cerebral vehicle was the Junto (Latin for meeting) club, which he formed when he was 21.

From his autobiography:

I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had form'd most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss'd by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.

Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

Franklin's curiosity drove the Junto's Friday evening meetings in Philadelphia. He devised a series of questions engaging a range of intellectual, personal, business, and community topics. These questions were used as a springboard for inclusive discussion and community action.

I've spent a lot of time herein trumpeting the value of asking questions. A selection of Franklin's Junto inquiries (remember he was a ripe 21 at the time) resonate:

  1. Have you met with any thing in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable to be communicated to the Junto? particularly in history, morality, poetry, physics, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of knowledge?
  2. What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?
  3. Hath any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
  4. Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?
  5. Do you know of any fellow citizen, who has lately done a worthy action, deserving praise and imitation? or who has committed an error proper for us to be warned against and avoid?
  6. Do you think of any thing at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? to their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
  7. Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?
Nearly three centuries ago, story-telling and question positing -- in an agenda-free, open-ended forum -- ruled. Long live juntos.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

where did you attend the meeting?

Regards,

Stefan

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