Holidays have always been our benchmarks of passing time, our opportunities to gather together and look back, take stock and reconnect. Maybe now more than ever we are aware of the luxury that is sharing time and space and having the attention of those we love. The compression of these days, however, has been known to spark conversations that happen in fits and starts. Sometimes it’s because we are trying to squeeze a year of information into a social flyby. Sometimes our treasured diversity in perspectives leaves us with a mental tally of “awkward topics” we dance around to avoid tension. Our great coming togethers can fracture apart in moments.
But you can help. With a little care and facilitation you can use great questions to urge those conversations towards more authentic sharing. You can help set the stage for conversations that celebrate the chance to share our stories and our learnings and enjoy the chance for some open-hearted listening. Focus on the individual experiences and stories, invite everyone in, spare the judgements in favor of personal insights, and play with ways to make things visual and interactive. A ”question jar” can be an opportunity for everyone to contribute and can be included as prize or punishment to other games and activities. Conversation card printables like the ones here or here and here can add content to decor. A “looking back board” can be a fun graphic on the wall for people to add pictures and quotes and notable events to.
There are also numerous resources on the web to help shuffle these conversations along. TED Talks recently put out two posts which may be of interest. “10 questions to ask your family around the table” and “How to turn small talk into smart conversation” both provide some quick tips on facilitating more meaningful conversations. And sources as diverse as AARP, the Kansas City Star and Daily Good have all posted helpful questions lists linked in this sentence.
And every year, we at Partners hand out the following question set as a resource for people who want take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the year, connect more deeply to themselves and others, and draw out any meaning or significance that might carry into their future. It’s meant as a menu of questions to draw from, adapt and change to help set the tone and structure for the reflection that makes sense to you and the group of loved ones you may be hosting.
Use the questions below to make time for yourself or with your loved ones to reflect on 2015. Though written in the first person, they can easily be tweaked for a family or group setting.
Re-call the Happenings.
- What are all the things that I experienced, that happened to me this year?
- 10 events I participated in
- 5 people I remember
- 5 places I visited, near and far
- 5 books/poems/articles
- 5 movies/TV shows/plays/sport events
- What global news events have had the most impact?
- What are memorable things people said, or decisions that were made?
- What has happened to those closest to you?
- What new thoughts, concepts, books came into your life?
Re-experience the Journey.
- What added seasoning and spice — salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami?
- What was your favorite belly laugh of the year?
- Anything really silly happen?
- What were the underlying struggles or tensions?
- What were the “seasons” you experienced?
- What were the characteristics of these various seasons as you see them? Hot, cold, subtle changes, one long…
- Where did you experience hope and joy? Darkness and despair?
- Where did you weep? Shout with rage? Dance with joy? Fall in love? Stand with conviction?
- What unexpected occurrences (adding too much, too little, forget to pay attention to time, needing to substitute for a missing ingredient)?
Re-create the Meaning.
- Look over what happened this year until some event begins to call to you. Circle that event, take a piece of paper and just start writing about that event. Tell its story, the details, the setting, what happened, the significance.
- When you run out, pick another and do the same.
- Key personal event…
- Key family event of the past year…
- What are the roots of your feelings about this year?
- What connections do you see across levels? (between your personal life and the world, between work and personal, between nation and family?)
- What has the journey of this year been like for you?
- How would you characterize this year using a song or book title?
- If you were reading a synopsis of your year’s life events but someone else’s name was plugged in, what would you admire that person for?
- Suppose your year was a meal — where was the prep? Appetizer? Entree? Dessert? Clean up?
- What “keys” made this year unique? Why?
Re-engage with your Life.
- Looking to next year, what do I intend?
- Who am I going to be in the coming year?
- What is my greatest need?
- 3 things I’m focused on beyond self:
- My prayer for the earth community:
- 3 things I intend to participate in:
- What would you like to be able to say at the end of the coming year about what happened?
- What’s the “one thing” you want to be able to say is different, stronger or deeper?
- My name for the past year is “The Great Year of…”
- My deepest anticipation of the year coming up is:
What are your favorite end of year questions and reflection tools? How might you change or adapt this list? Share with us your thoughts and we’ll keep updating this set and sharing it with others.