"Study without action is futile; Action without study is fatal." — Mary Beard

The other day, I got into my car, set off, and realized I was going the wrong direction. It was my usual direction, but it was wrong. What happened? It was habit.

Unfortunately, we live our lives this way. So much of what we do is because it’s routine; it’s normal. We’ve become consumers because that’s what’s “normal.” When we need something, we go out and buy it. We haven’t learned any other way to live. But we know that the well-being of people and the planet won’t allow us to continue this way. How do we break out of the consumer life style?

For many of us, the sharing movement is a positive alternative. By sharing our stuff, we reduce our consumerism.

But how do we create an actual sharing society? How do we move away from a cutthroat, irresponsible culture where we consume without thinking? We can begin to live more consciously by building reflection into our lives in the form of a “sharing conversation circle.”

Conversation circles can be formed by any groups of people. Photo credit: Laurelville Mennonite Church Center. Used under Creative Commons license.

The circle is a way to stop and take stock, think more deeply. We need to begin to consciously choose our direction instead of living by rote. In a sharing conversation circle, people come together to talk and think about sharing so that, ultimately, it changes the way they think about life. People need to realize that sharing is about much more than just exchanging stuff; it is a reorientation of the way we live. We are creating a new culture in which we consciously think about acting together instead of alone — a culture in which we understand that our own well-being is linked to the common good.

Ultimately, the sharing conversations will help build a movement because it involves the most basic aspect of sharing: sharing our selves — our thoughts, our emotions, our ideas. In a sharing circle, we build social ties, gain self-understanding, analyze society, and make plans for action.

Anyone can do it. No training necessary. Here’s how:

Form a small group in which you discuss your experiences with sharing, talk about the larger cultural forces, and make plans for more sharing. At the same time, read the articles on, watching for ideas that give you insight into your experiences with sharing.

There are three characteristics of the circle:

Sharing involves the Small Group as Community: Groups should allow people to form community by giving them a chance to talk freely and be themselves. Therefore, groups shouldn’t be larger than four to six. If a group is too large, people don’t get time to talk, and it’s harder to share our more personal experiences — making it hard to create community. And creating community is crucial because it gives us support as we bring about change.

Sharing involves Conversation, not Discussion: Groups should be convivial conversations, not competitive debates. You’re sharing ideas, not trying to win a game! Actually, conversation is sharing at its most basic. It’s a give and take, not a hostile takeover! You share your worries, your enthusiasms, your self. You don’t bludgeon each other with facts as we do in school! When, instead of conversations, we have debates or discussions, we put on our public persona and fail to truly connect. Instead of conversing in a personal, congenial manner, we compete and put up barriers. Conversation should be a barn raising, not a battle.

Circles involve Shareable as text: There’s so much going on in the movement as reflected in the articles on Shareable. We need to use these articles to understand our own ideas better. We connect our own insights with the ideas in the articles. When we read and talk about on a regular basis, our insights about our experiences deepen. Finish up each meeting commenting on any new ideas you’ve found on Shareable.

Sharing Conversations are built around three questions — questions that allow you to share your experience, share your ideas, and share in plans for action:

  1. When in your life have you experienced sharing? (Or, in subsequent sessions, what have you tried lately?)

  2. What forces in our culture make it difficult to share in this way?

  3. What actions can I take to share more effectively?

Groups can be only a few people interested in sharing conversations on sharing. Photo credit: Jones Library. Used under Creative Commons license.

Let’s look at why these questions are important.

Question number one: “When in your life have you experienced sharing?” This is about the examined life. We must not only learn from books, but from our lives.

Too often we just explore ideas without looking at our own experience, making it difficult to live consciously. To create change for ourselves and society, we must begin to make conscious choices that emerge from our experience. So, the first question helps you understand your own experience, letting you root your values in real experiences instead of second-hand ideas.

Question number two: “What are the forces in our culture that undermine sharing?” This question takes us beyond individualism. Too often we blame conditions on the individual, failing to look at the cultural forces. We need to analyze the larger society, explore the new ideas and movements for social change. Thus, we move from sharing our feelings to sharing our ideas.

Question number three: What actions can I take to share more?” This question lays the basis for collaborative living and thinking. We move from feeling and thinking to acting. We don’t really change unless we act on our ideas. We can learn how to plan together — to plan in a cooperative, collaborative way. It’s brainstorming at its best with everyone pitching in to help each person develop plans that will work — both long-term and short-term, political as well as personal. And we return each meeting to share our experiences with each other.

Getting Started!

So, if you’re in a larger group — maybe a church group, a Meetup, a sustainability group, or just a group exploring the idea of sharing, start a conversation circle! You can keep coming back to these three questions, going deeper each time. Each time, exploring with others the actions you have taken.

Though an age-old practice, sharing can feel new and exciting! We need to think about it deeply and clearly, and begin to understand how it can create a nourishing, sustainable culture. But, to do this, we need to truly share our insights, ideas, and our selves.

Let’s take seriously Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt the ability of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

For help on forming a group, get in touch with me at

Cecile Andrews


Cecile Andrews

Cecile Andrews is the author of Living Room Revolution: An Handbook for Conversation, Community, and the Common Good as well as Less is More, Slow is Beautiful, and Circle of

Things I share: My focus is bringing people together to talk, whether formally or informally. Conversation is the most basic kind of sharing and unless we learn to share when we talk, we probably won't be good sharers at anything else.