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Learning to create meaningful events with Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering | ASAC Book Club Reviews

What can we do to make sure our gatherings are meaningful? How should we, as hosts, create gatherings that leave lasting impressions on our guests? Is it really necessary to have a purpose or meaning behind every single time we gather?

These questions were on my mind before I started reading, The Art of Gathering, by Priya Parker as part of Australia South Asian Centre’s (ASAC) Book Club. I found that Priya answered all of my questions and provided me with much to consider when planning future events.

About the author

The more we’ve learned about books and their authors, the more we’ve recognised how interwoven authors’ personal journeys and the books they’ve written are. And we’ve found the same with Priya. Priya is a facilitator, author, podcast host, and conflict resolution expert, based in Brooklyn, NY, where she lives with her husband and two children. Through her various roles, Priya has helped leaders and communities engage in complex conversations around community, identity and vision during transitionary periods for over 15 years.

Through her successes, her work has been amplified by some of the most influential organisations and people in the world. Priya’s TEDx talk about purpose has over 1 million views and her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Forbes.com, Real Simple Magazine, Oprah.com, Glamour, the Today Show and Morning Joe. The Art of Gathering continues her work’s universal appeal with it being named ‘Best Business Book of the Year’ by Amazon, the Financial Times, and Bloomberg.

Credit Jeff Allen

Novel overview

The Art of Gathering was a richly informative read that changed my perspective on the importance of the way that we host or attend an event in creating a meaningful gathering. What I liked about the book is that it has something for everyone. Whether you’re an employer interested in keeping your team’s strategic meetings productive, or if you’re hosting a party at home and want to create a memorable experience, this book is for you. Priya has pearls of wisdom book for everyone and every type of gathering, I guarantee you’ll find yourself relating to at least one of the scenarios shared in this book.

Priya delves into how to make our interactions more meaningful because even though we’re constantly in contact with others, these interactions aren’t always occurring on a meaningful level. Many of us experience moments where we’re surrounded by friends, family or colleagues, but still feel disconnected from those around us. Like how you feel after attending an unproductive meeting, and questioning how you could have better spent your time.

Initially, I was quite sceptical when I picked up The Art of Gathering, unsure if I’d find it interesting as I generally stay away from educational and self-help books. Surprisingly, I found myself interested in what Priya had to say and our Book Club members agreed; they felt the book had a lot of wisdom and shared interesting experiences. It’s the kind of book you read over a few weeks or months, taking in its nuggets of information, reflecting on them and applying them to your day-to-day life.

One member mentioned how this book made her reflect on all the gatherings she’d attended or hosted over the last year, wondering if she’d been a generous host and whether the gatherings were purposeful. The book inspired a lot of self-reflection, having us think more deeply about the ways we’ve connected in the past and what we’d like to change moving forward.

 

Our biggest takeaways

The first question our members answered was, ‘What is your biggest takeaway from this book that you want to implement in your life?’ One member mentioned how The Art of Gathering had her closely analyse past gatherings where she’d been the attendee and others where she’d been the host. It made her wonder, ‘Have I been a good host?’ She realised in the past when she’d hosted dinner parties and found some guests to be particularly disruptive, their presence took away from the group’s conversations. Priya’s book made her realise hosts have to take ownership of the gathering, and sometimes it means taking charge, even if that means making some guests uncomfortable. While some of us avoid confrontation (I know I do), in certain circumstances it’s necessary to step up and take action for the sake of the larger group, especially when you’re the host of an event. As the host, guests rely on you to steer the night and as uncomfortable as you may be, you need to own that role.

The Art of Gathering also highlighted the importance of choosing who you invite, why you invite them and how they contribute to the purpose of your event. One member mentioned how she and a friend learned this lesson when they threw their mutual friend a surprise birthday party. During the party, one of the guests who wasn’t a close friend of the birthday girl and more of a random invite began asking other guests invasive questions that affected their enjoyment of the party.

In a similar vein, another member shared how, culturally, as South Asians, we often feel forced (by formality) to invite distant friends of our parents to our weddings. I’m sure this is a feeling many of us can relate to, where we’ve been guilt-tripped into inviting random (and often distant) acquaintances of your parents, like their old university friend’s neighbour. While it can be difficult to put your foot down on decisions like this, it helps to think about whether this guest is integral to achieving the overall purpose of your gathering. If the purpose of your wedding is to celebrate the unification of you and your partner amongst those you feel the most comfortable with, then perhaps inviting your parents’ random guest isn’t the right guest for your wedding. At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you feel like you’ve had a celebration that’s meaningful for you.

Showing different sides of yourself

In an interview Priya said, “Every time you’re bringing people together, you also have an opportunity to help them decide which part of themselves they want to show.” We asked our members if they also found themselves emphasising different aspects of their personality depending on who they’re around. One member mentioned they show different aspects of themselves if they’re in personal or professional environments. But they expressed that even though they show up differently in personal and professional settings, they were able to be vulnerable whatever side they showed, if the host created a safe environment to allow them to share deeply.

Another member said their personality is influenced by the language they’re speaking, and that they adopt different qualities when speaking English or Hindi.

Personally, I’m comfortable with showing different sides of myself in different contexts. For example, on a day-to-day basis I’m more introverted, but when it comes to my professional life I adopt extroverted tendencies because my role requires it. Letting different parts of myself be showcased at different times and situations is something that I’m completely okay with. It protects me from getting too burnt out from being extroverted all the time and from being confined to my introverted habits. This compartmentalising of the different layers and aspects of what makes me who I am, allows me to maintain (what I think is) a good balance. 

Final thoughts

The Art of Gathering is a book that you should take your time reading, absorbing and integrating into your psyche and daily life. Priya breaks down the importance of how and why we gather, in a simple and effective way. While this was a new genre for our Book Club, the majority enjoyed the book and felt like we learnt a lot from Priya’s experiences. We definitely recommend giving this book a go if you’re interested in learning how to participate in more meaningful gatherings that leave you with unforgettable memories.

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