Building Community through Unique & Impactful Experiences
Over the past couple years, my wife and I have participated in several of Merlin’s activities, including Philosophy Walks, Drive-in evenings, Think and Drink evenings, the Reeder’s Alley Block Party, and philosophy symposiums. I find three things about these activities to be particularly impactful to me and keep drawing me back to Merlin.
First, I often hear things that make me question my own thinking. Through the presentation of ideas that are new to me and the discourse with others who aren’t necessarily like-minded, I get the opportunity to examine why I believe what I believe. In some cases, this solidifies my opinions and attitudes. In other cases, it truly has caused me to shift my perspective. As the consummate introvert, I find the desire to really understand the what and why of my own thinking to be a driving force.
Second, Merlin provides a safe forum for discussion and serves as the conduit for bringing together groups of people with distinctly unique backgrounds. Discussions within the various forums are clearly not driven by group think. Rather, diversity of thought would be a better way of describing the audiences. The one commonality I’ve found with the programs I’ve attended is that even though the participants come from a wide variety of fields from across the region, most participants are sincerely interested in hearing and understanding the perspectives of others. Merlin creates an encouraging and safe environment for social discourse, free of animosity and attack. That is something that is increasingly disappearing from our society.
Third, Merlin activities are fun. Being fairly new to the Helena area, Merlin activities have opened the door to meeting new people and making friends with folks that I would not otherwise have met. These relationships have helped my wife and I build a sense of community that transcends our jobs and immediate family, helping us feel part of the Helena region.
So far, I’ve participated in two of the Philosophy Walks…a lovely September birthday treat to myself with a follow-up engaging evening at Montana Wild. The Philosophy Walk itself was beyond inspirational. Billed as 3-4 hours, our walk was closer to 6 hours, simply because our group of 12 or so became so deeply engaged with the guest speakers/co-philosophers-on-trail, with each other, and immersed in our lovely Montana landscape. Thank you Marisa & Merlin for sharing this very special landscape! As someone who has only been a Montana resident for 7 years and struggling to understand Montana’s many dichotomies, this very special experience was something I could not have programmed for myself.
Thoughtful Dialogue & Interesting Philosophical Issues
I have really enjoyed the Think and Drinks. They are great ways to meet new thoughtful people and enjoy each of their unique approaches to interesting philosophical issues.
My Worldview Has Been Expanded
I have always left the Think and Drink events with new insights, ideas and questions and ponder these still. The value of a thoughtful exchange of ideas with people who I might not have had the opportunity to meet or encounter in my normal social circle has expanded my knowledge and often made me aware of a prejudice I had not recognized in myself. The way the sessions are structured allows for presentation of alternative ideas and views in a safe environment. Many times I’ve read a book or sought additional research on a topic after the event. I’ve met and gained new friends due to these sessions. My worldview has been expanded and this keeps me coming back.
Provides a Fountain of Ideas Percolating Among Us…
It’s not often that a lively public discussion tumbles out into a bar after the main event closes for further hashing, but it’s happened more than once with Merlin events I’ve gone to. Gone are the days of round-table cafe’ philosophical confabs sprouting spontaneously on street corners. Merlin fills a wonderful social role of providing forums for discussion of critical issues to our community. It provides a kind of fountain of ideas percolating among us in this time of rapid transformation and creative foment.
Merlin Creates a Community of People…
Merlin creates a community of people who are interested in applying thoughtful reflection to issues facing society, whether they be local (walkable cities), regional (habitat preservation), or global (artificial intelligence). I always learn something from the activities and events I attend. In addition, I often find contacts in areas of discussion that help expand a network of individuals who are concerned about the topic of that event.
Makes Philosophy Accessible, Relatable & Fun for Everyone
I’ve been attending and volunteering at Merlin events for over a year now, and I am amazed how dedicated this organization is to reaching all members of the community, and how effectively it does so. Anyone with a serious interest in philosophy is probably familiar with the experience of seeing someone’s eyes glaze over at the mere mention of philosophy or philosophical concepts. What makes Merlin (and especially Marisa) so special is that it manages to make philosophy accessible, relatable, and fun for everyone.
I think one of the keys to Merlin’s success is that it manages to keep things fresh with a wide range of activities. For those who do their best thinking outdoors, immersed in nature, the guided Philosophy Walks capitalize on the unique beauty of Helena and Merlin Nature Preserve. For those who prefer a more traditional academic environment, the Symposiums provide an opportunity to see some the sharpest minds in Montana at work on complex philosophical issues. And for those who just want to nerd out in spirited philosophical debate, there are, of course, the Think & Drinks.
I have seen attendance explode at all of Merlin’s events over the course of the past year, which is itself a testament to the value this organization brings to the community. People from all walks of life, many of whom may never have thought of themselves as philosophers, are drawn to the opportunity to engage in thoughtful, civil discourse with their neighbors. I have had many friends, coworkers, and acquaintances approach me to continue conversations that began at Merlin events.
As a newcomer to Helena, I feel incredibly lucky to be one of Merlin’s beneficiaries. I was eager to make new friends in the community when I arrived just over a year ago. Joining local organizations and activities can be a good way to meet people, but it can be slow-going, often because meaningful engagement with others is a byproduct of some other, overarching goal. With Merlin, engagement is the goal. Through engagement, we develop respect for one another, build friendships, and strengthen the bonds of the community. I can confidently say that I, and Helena community, have benefited immensely from Merlin’s efforts.
Opportunities that Pull Diverse Folks Together
One of the primary ways Merlin brings value to the Helena community is by offering unique opportunities that pull diverse folks together to talk about stuff that otherwise wouldn’t be talked about. As an urban-design geek, a rare species hereabouts, I really appreciated the chance to lead a philosophy walk for Merlin last year. I found the experience to be positive in almost every way and I want to see more such events, regardless of the topics discussed.
Awesome! Just What Our Community Needs!!
Promotes Ongoing Conversation About What It Means to Live Our Best Lives
Merlin is so important to our community because it promotes critical thinking and thoughtful interaction between anyone and everyone who wants to participate in an ongoing conversation about what it means to live our best lives. Without Merlin we would be leaving some of our most beautiful opportunities to interact intellectually with one another to chance, and what a misguided strategy that is. Thank you Merlin, for getting us together and sharing our passions, fears and blessings.