Check out our Online Meetings! • You’re Invited to Join the Conversation with our New Online Group


How’s it going everyone? I’m Nick and you are listening to the Fresh
Perspective Podcast. I am pleased to announce that the first internet-based
Free Thought Forum has been created! It is now in operation, meeting 100% online
each week, giving freethinkers from around the world the chance to participate. The best part is that all of you listening
right now (and in the future) are invited to join us! It is 100% free and you may even have a chance
to chat with me and other members of our Executive Board at the next meeting! But how can our in-person meetings translate
to a purely digital space? What additional challenges can be expected? And how can you get involved? In this quick episode, I will answer all that,
and more! This program is brought to you by the contributing
members of the Free Thought Initiative. We help those in need of an inclusive, supportive,
and free-thinking community by hosting public discussions on moral philosophy, healthy living,
and science, to improve the cohesion, health, and scientific literacy of our society. Everyone is welcome, (regardless of personal
background, religious belief, political leanings, etc.) to participate (in-person) in these
open and civil discussions each week. To find a Free Thought Forum meeting near
you, to start your own local group, or to support this program through monthly donations,
please visit freethoughtforum.org. While you’re there, be sure to check out
our online store – now with freethought t-shirts, mugs, and other smart-looking swag! Our new Online Group represents an experiment. But, to be honest, so does everything about
the Free Thought Initiative. Can we really have meetings where people can
say whatever they need to say without fear of judgment or being thrown out? Can we really bring strangers from every belief
and background together and have a meaningful, civil, and productive conversation without
it spinning into chaos? At the time of this recording, our organization
has about eight months of practical experience hosting over 50 public discussions, two festivals,
and dozens of volunteer projects. Our programs and procedures have been well-tested
and we have been prodded to tweak and improve them a great deal, thanks to the feedback
from our guests, members, and listeners like you. What started out as a bold social test has
now grown into a force for good in our communities and we are ready, once again, to expand. Before I jump into more information about
our online meetings, I wanted to say that it has been a busy month, but our recent work
has certainly paid off! Major improvements have been made to our organization,
our website, and our content. (Further details of these improvements can
be found in our monthly newsletter so feel free to sign up for it if you haven’t already.) I should also add as a side-note that our
regular upload schedule (of about one episode per week) will continue to be disrupted a
bit as the executive board focuses more of our time and resources on filing for our Nonprofit
Status and Tax-exemption. We are seeking expert advice and doing what
we can to get it all right the first time. Actually, if you happen to have experience
with this kind of paperwork, we would love to hear your suggestions. After all that is completed, we will go back
to our regular upload schedule. As a show of our gratitude for your patience
and flexibility, we have some really great episodes coming in the near future! And now back to the exciting news at hand. If you would like to give our first Online
Group a try, all of the information about its upcoming meetings can be found on its
official webpage: https://www.freethoughtforum.org/online-group
(I’ll be sure to add a link to it in the description below.) You may also find this page by visiting our
website and by clicking on the “Groups and Events” link at the top. This will bring you to a list of all of our
local groups in operation, including one that may be meeting near you! Select the “Online Group” option to access
its page, complete with an events calendar and instructions on how to participate. At the time of this recording, we are hosting
these events on our Discord server for a couple of hours on Sunday evenings. However, any of those details may change in
the future so keep an eye on that official page. (Ideally, each Free Thought Forum has between
five and fifteen regular freethinkers. If our online membership grows beyond that,
then we may split the group into multiple groups. Whatever the case, it will be plainly stated
on that page.) Once you’ve made it to our meeting, be sure
to listen to its voice channel. While some of you may want to participate
with your microphone, others may prefer to simply listen along as they type in the group’s
text-based chat room. The Online Group will function much like our
in-person groups. First-time visitors will be asked to fill
out a Welcome Form (now a link to a digital form) and also be sent a link to a digital
version of our guest pamphlet, summarizing our organization’s mission, the meeting’s
schedule, rules, and so forth. A PDF file of the week’s discussion primer
is shared much like how a printed copy would be shared. We will keep our opening and closing statements,
the mid-way break, and so forth. Our Online Group will also host digital service
projects! Members may be asked to download certain service
apps, write and send encouraging messages, fill out surveys for a scientific study, donate
some of their computer’s processing power to SETI or similar causes, and more! Pretty soon we will release an episode about
our Harmony Festival, one of our four new secular annual celebrations centered on each
of the four cardinal virtues of classical philosophy. Will such festivals also be celebrated online? Absolutely! Our board members and group leaders are a
creative bunch, eager to translate everything awesome about our organization into their
cyber equivalents. That eagerness, actually, is something they’ve
had for some time. Even back in March of 2019 when our first
experimental Free Thought Forum first assembled, our members have asked us to consider forming
an online-only group that would meet weekly for open and civil discussions on digital
platforms like Skype, Discord, or WhatsApp. I have to admit that I was, at first, hesitant
to the idea. After all, we have had so many positive experiences
talking face-to-face with whoever visited our meetings in Springville or Draper, Utah. All kinds of people came to meet others, share
ideas, network, engage with multiple points-of-view, develop their critical thinking skills, learn,
find friends, build a community, and more. Our venues of coffee shops and public parks
were ideal for open discussion. Seeing friendly people face-to-face helped
to ease the concerns of our first-time-visitors and allowed them to really open-up with their
ideas. In addition, bringing food, snacks, and other
items to share also helped to break-the-ice. Our in-person community service options are
also abundant and it is satisfying to see the impact you’ve been able to make with
your own hands. So far so good, but many of you remained persistent,
and continued to ask about the possibility of meeting online. Over time, I became aware of the following
five strong arguments to host digital meetings. Are there others I’ve missed? If so, be sure to add them with your comments! 1. Functional Similarity Almost everything done in a physical meeting
can be done in a virtual one. Therefore, and from what we have tested thus
far, it is reasonable to conclude that many of our practices and procedures in place for
our physical meetings can be carried over. From a cynical perspective, I could say that
online anonymity may bring out the worst in people. It is certainly true that many of us may behave
worse as an avatar then we would as a person in public. Should our online discussions be subject to
the assault of the overtly disruptive, we already have procedures in place to re-route
the situation. Many of these procedures stem from our (recently
updated) Five Rules of Civil Discourse: 1. Be respectful of each other’s time by making
your comments reasonably concise and by refraining from interruption. 2. Focus your comments on ideas, not people. 3. Recognize the authority of the appointed moderator. 4. Allow for amicable disagreement and a diversity
of opinions. (Your aim should not be to debate, convince,
convert, or “win” the discussion.) 5. Be prepared to explain the reasoning behind
your ideas, if asked. By participating at our events, all involved
agree to abide by those rules. If you are not able or willing to follow these
rules, then you are welcome to share your ideas outside of our meetings such as in the
comment sections of our social media pages. Our moderators are trained in de-escalation
techniques and in other relevant skills. Should all our precautions and procedures
fail, in the worst-case scenario, it is far easier to remove a would-be saboteur from
a digital space than it is to remove them from a coffee shop or park. But that is the nuclear option. We would much rather give someone a chance
to rant. Even if what they say is extremely unpopular
or offensive, they are still welcome to participate as long as they are following our five rules. But if that rant repeatedly impedes on another
guest’s ability to say what they need to say, then that is a problem. The good news is that we already have a solution
to it. But here is the deal, while we prepare for
the worst, we still hope for the best. Our in-person discussions have been the epitome
of civility. Once guests understand that we really want
to hear what they have to say, it tends to bring out the best in them. I have found that it is only when we try to
control the narrative that the rebellious side of people comes out. This is all to say that I have no doubt that
many of the challenges we have overcome in person can likewise be overcome in cyberspace. As our organization continually improves,
we have every reason to believe that our meetings will continue to be the ideal places for these
types of discussions, no matter how or where they are held. 2. Anonymity Just as anonymity can be seen as an obstacle,
it is also important to consider that people tend to feel more comfortable sharing their
true thoughts and opinions online. When we say that we want open and unfettered
discussions, we really mean it. Anonymity can also be a force for great good,
especially when we find ourselves unable to say what we need to say in our day-to-day
lives. For example, if you happen to be someone who
belongs to a community that discourages or criminalizes freethinking, free speech, and
free assembly, then participating in our online group under the protection of anonymity may
be your best option. Those who visit our in-person meetings are
seen in public with others who may have dramatically different political, religious, and philosophical
opinions. For some, such a bold action can be socially
detrimental as one’s family life is disrupted, employment is threatened, or one’s standing
with a church is called into question. If this describes you, I hope you are able
to take a break from that situation in a healthy way. Furthermore, I hope that our online meetings
can give you that place where you can really say what is on your mind. 3. Accessibility While many of us are physically able to stand,
walk, drive, and get ourselves to a coffee shop or park, some of us can’t. Some of us are hindered by psychological conditions
and anxieties that restrict us to our homes. Those with dire health conditions or advanced
age should also be considered. Our meetings are for everyone. Literally everyone who is able and willing
to follow our Five Rules for Civil Discourse is invited. If online meetings allow more people to join,
then hosting them is already a major part of our mission! 4. Overcoming Distance Most of you listening are nowhere near a physical
Free Thought Forum. Our first two groups are in Utah, and even
though we are growing quickly, it may take a lifetime before a local group holds its
first meeting in your neighborhood. Of course, if you would like to accelerate
that process, why not volunteer to become a Group Leader? Everything you need to start and run your
group is on our website, and the board is happy to help you with each step along the
way. With that said, we still want to bring our
discussions on science, healthy living, and moral philosophy to as many people as possible. If you are miles away from where we meet,
or if you are traveling, feel free to join us online! 5. Convenience The fact that I can invite all of you listening
through iTunes, YouTube, Bitchute, our Blog, and elsewhere, to meet on an app at a certain
time where our voices and text can be instantly made available to one another is a marvel
of modern science and technology. To put this in context, when I was young,
I would connect cans to the end of a string to chat with my friends because our family
members were using the house phones. I wrote physical notes to my crush in Jr. High because there was no time in the day
when we could chat in person. I even folded those notes in awesome ways
that made them lock into themselves – it was a ton of fun. I sent my first text as an adult, so you bet
that participating in online meetings blows my mind! This technology is convenient, awesome, and
provides a great platform that connects us. If some of you simply prefer online conversations
to face-to-face interaction, I can’t blame you at all. You are welcome to join us too! If you have enjoyed this conversation or have
learned something from it, please leave a like, subscribe, and share it with other open-minded
people. All of those small things really do make a
big difference and help others find our group and our podcast. Thank you! That is all I have for you today, but the
conversation continues across social media and in the comment sections below. Do you agree with today’s message? Am I mistaken about some detail? What feedback or ideas do you have for this
program or our organization? Feel free to share your perspective. A Special Shout-Out goes to Dale Thurber Ph.D.,
Shayne Wissler, Lance Freeman, and Brooke! Your monthly support makes this all possible. To check out our awesome donor rewards starting
at one dollar per month, please visit: freethoughtforum.org/donate.

Maurice Vega

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