Conversation Starters: No Place Like Home

If the Wizard of Oz moves us, there's a good chance it can move our care companions as well.  And if we're all moved and are able to communicate those feelings in a conversation, given the themes in the film, there's a good chance it'll deepen our connections with one another.  But how to get started?  

We've learned from our own experience and by observing experts that we cannot proceed directly to this goal, say, by asking direct questions.  A personal connection can only emerge from authentic conversation and that cannot be forced.  Instead, what seems to work is volunteering an authentic, personal story and then allowing our partners in conversation, our care companions, to reflect on their own and respond on their own. 

So this is what Meema does to start a conversation: Meema tells a story.  And that's what we're going to do as well by responding with a personal story of our own.  And then, by doing this, we hope to encourage or stimulate our care companions to volunteer personal stories of their own. 

In other words, we tell a story to get a story.  And we exchange stories -- even familiar stories -- to connect with each other.

Let's begin thinking about conversation starters by watching the scene from the movie in the Meema Story below.  As you do, keep these simple placeholders in mind, starting with the scene you're about to see and moving outward:

  1. What do you notice in the scene from the film itself?
  2. What do you notice in the Meema Story about the film? 
  3. What can you recall from the rest of the movie, context for this scene?
  4. What other thoughts, memories or associations come to mind beyond the scope of the stories?
  5. And finally, how does it make you feel?

Think about your conversational companions.  How do you think they will answer these questions?

Focus Point

We call this concept a Meema 'focus point'.  As you review this Meema Story about the Wizard of Oz, notice how you can move from the left -- a more or less objective point of focus on the story of the Wizard of Oz itself -- to the right, which is completely subjective and beyond the boundaries of The Wizard of Oz and the Meema Story.  As you make this shift, think about your own feelings and things in your own life -- including personal things that are meaningful to you and might be meaningful to your care companions.

meema engagement model focus 2


Keeping this continuum of experience in mind, now play the story below.  Don't be afraid to stop it, go back and watch it again.  You can interact with it.  It's deliberately short so you can view interesting segments over again to delve deeper.  As you do, think about a personal story you might tell to engage your care companion, how you might focus on the story, your observations, associations that come to mind, and your feelings. 


So what do you think?  How about that ending?!  Isn't the music great?  Did you follow the links at the end of the story and check out some of the other Meema Stories as well?  We hope you liked that.  We endeavor to make the Meema Stories experience entertaining, even fun!

Themes Meet Focus Point

Before moving on, take a minute to consider some of the themes listed at the end of this Meema Story as prompts to help start your conversation:

  • Returning home (after a journey),
  • Feeling safe (after being somewhat anxious, uncomfortable or afraid)
  • Belonging (after feeling alienated, apart, different from everyone else)
  • Being a young girl or boy (in a world of uncaring adults)
  • Not being understood (or being dismissed, disrespected)

See if any of these themes triggers something in yourself, something you noticed in the story, something or some memory you associate with the story, or something you feel about the story.  Your process might look something like this:

  • Reflect on your own experience of the Meema story
  • Pick a theme and a focal point
  • Tell an authentic story about yourself, the more genuine, the more personal, the better
  • Wait, listen and engage with your companion's response, whatever that is.

This last point is the most important.  Your job as the facilitator is to help the conversation along, the conversation your companion wants to have.  Your job is to find the thread of the connection and pull gently on it until it becomes strong enough to survive and then thrive on it's own. 

We'll write more about waiting, listening and engagement techniques in subsequent blog posts.

Specific Examples:  Feeling Safe, Belonging and Being Understood

Let's make this concrete with some examples.   Take the theme of feeling safe with an initial focus on the story itself.  I might initiate conversation by saying, "I think what Dorothy was feeling was relief, tremendous relief after a very strange experience that was troubling and frightening on so many levels."  Or I could change the focus to the right and offer this instead:  "I just felt tremendous relief at the end of this story when Dorothy is finally home again, safe."  Or perhaps, "It made me happy when Dorothy seemed to learn her lesson and realize she already had what she was looking for:  a home." 

One of the benefits of starting with the story is we're not making any assumptions about common experiences to draw on beyond the story itself.  But of course, you can depart from such a narrow focus if it seems prudent with something like this: "I remember a really bad experience as a child on a field trip that made me particularly grateful to be home."

Here is an example of what you can do with different themes from the list above:  belonging and being understood.  For example, I might note that "Dorothy ran away because the adults in her life dismissed her troubles without really understanding them.  She didn't feel like she belonged at with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry on their farm in Kansas."  And I don't know about you, but I also noticed that, by he end of the film, nothing has changed except Dorothy herself.  They still didn't respect her abilities or her experience.  They're still not really going to help her or protect her.  Toto is still in deep trouble with Almira Gulch.  Why did Dorothy seem to feel more at home?  

You can choose between these different starting points based on which you think is most likely to engage your care companion.

Now this might be the most important point in this essay:  once you volunteer own personal story, let it go.  Wait.  Listen.  Allow your conversational partner or partners to take the conversation where they want it to go.  If it doesn't work, try a different approach.  It might take a few tries to get started.

If all of this seems obvious to you, great.  Do it.  If it seems impossibly difficult, let me encourage you to watch the story again by yourself, thinking about these themes and the different focal points.  Pick topics that matter to you that also might interest your companion.  Don't worry about whether your thoughts or feelings are right or wrong.  And don't worry if they don't seem interesting to you.  It's more important that they are authentic.  Pick the most meaningful stories to you and share them.  Think of it as a method of sharing who YOU are with THEM.  

And allow your conversational partner or partners to take the conversation where they want it to go.  When it works, they'll wind up sharing who they are with you.  And we call that a Meema Connection.


We'll write more later about how to wait and listen for their response.  And we can also write about how to sustain conversation.  We'll need to cover stories that are false, embarrassing or even hurtful.  There's a lot to be said about how to handle twists and turns in the conversation that might be unhelpful or even harmful:  troubleshooting when problems arise.  The professionals who do this for a living are truly remarkable at their ability to manage these challenging situations effortlessly.  But we're not all professionals.  Fortunately, especially if both parties are motivated to communicate, perfection is not required first of all.  And secondly, you will learn.  And lastly, most if not all of tools or conventions we're describing here are really just our way of formally describing something you already know how to do in your own way.  Trust yourself.  Don't judge or correct.  Listen.  Try to find something true in what your companion tells you, something you can validate, something you can follow up on or drill into. 

Think of the tools we're offering here in this post as training wheels for someone who already knows how to ride a bike:  they are helpful reminders of what you already know how to do.