Timings at Lincoln – pushing boundaries

August 13th, 2016
by Chris

I spent Thursday and Friday at the excellent Timings event in Lincoln. I just couldn’t resist the prospect of hearing (and hopefully meeting in the flesh) Rob Bell and Peter Rollins; there was a third speaker, Roger Bretherton, of whom I hadn’t heard – but how could he be bad when in that company?

And indeed, he wasn’t bad in the slightest, except perhaps in Michael Jackson language. He’s a psychologist who is also a reasonably well-known Christian¬†. I probably actually learned more from him than from the two speakers I’d actually gone to see – but then, I’ve followed both of them online for ages, bought their books and had a pretty good idea of much of their material. With Roger, I had no idea.

His first talk went into character strengths (as opposed to character flaws, which he said psychologists were more typically interested in), and involved audience participation. We were asked to pick someone in the audience we didn’t already know and who was preferably somewhat “high risk” and talk to them, first about a success we’d had, then about a failure – and in each case, identify in the other’s story character strengths (or in the second case, excess of them…). I have to thank Graham for being my “threatening other” – he’s pretty unthreatening, but I was in a room of 100 or so people I didn’t know, and ALL of them were threatening. For readers who don’t know, I score very high on tests for introversion, and on top of that have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and groups of people are a particular problem. I was always going to have difficulties – but as Roger shared from his own experience of debating Richard Dawkins, it wasn’t that courage won out (he doesn’t think he’s particularly courageous, and I’m certain I’m not) but that intellectual curiosity was just stronger than the fear, at least initially.

I think experimental psychologists are frustrated torturers (think of the Stanford Prison experiment or the Milgram experiment) – just joking – but was the sudden loud music with a countdown and flashing images on screen towards the end of each segment of that interaction REALLY necessary? I nearly jumped out of my skin the first time, and felt colossally pressured.

It may be, however, that that experience engaged another feature of courage (which he later focused on, together with humility, the subject of the clip I linked to); if you’ve done something once, it’s easier doing it again. Thursday evening I went looking for people who were going to be meeting in an unspecified restaurant on Brayford waterside, and saw a couple of people I vaguely thought might be doing the same thing and walked up to them and asked – and they were, and so I got to meet James and Sarah, both of whom I expect to be talking with on the internet in the future now, and another four people who recognised one or the other of them. We never did link with the main speakers, who it turned out had arrived slightly later and holed up in another restaurant two doors along from the Prezzo we ate in, but it was really good listening to them and getting to know them a bit – more listening than talking, though, as a group of 7 is getting a bit large for my comfort!

Even so, I was feeling particularly fearful on waking up on Friday morning and realising I was going to need to do it all again, and got a pep talk from my wife on the phone to encourage me to jump in again. I’m very glad I did, because I got to talk to Rob Bell a little and Peter Rollins and Roger rather more.

So, Roger’s second talk delved into the dangers of too little or too much of the various character strengths he’d introduced, and in particular the fact that people perform at their best in a band which falls between too little and too much courage, where they are relatively comfortable – but they are, from research, at their absolute best when they’re just pushing at (and sometimes a little beyond) the point where they’re uncomfortable (and fearful). And it occurred to me that that’s exactly what I’d been doing for the whole event, pushing a little beyond the envelope where I was comfortable.

My psych people (who I haven’t now seen for some years) would be really pleased with me!

However, I also pushed the envelope of how much walking and uncomfortable sitting I could comfortably manage, and pushed it a lot further… my physiotherapist is going to be a lot less pleased when I see her on Tuesday.

Oh, and yes, I am now suffering from an introvert hangover – but I’d do it all again anyway in a flash!

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