If you have been enjoying walks around Great Neck, you might have seen bright green signs posted in public spaces around town reading: Conversation Station- Please sit here if you’d welcome some friendly conversation.
Long-time Great Neck resident Ronald Gross has organized for these signs to be posted around town. Gross has been hosting Socrates Salons, a conversation group sponsored by the Great Neck Library, for over 20 years.
About five or six years ago, Gross founded Conversations New York, a group of volunteers and hosts who create, publicize and convene exhilarating and empowering conversations. He brought the concept to Bryant Park in Manhattan earlier this year, with coverage by 1010 WINS.
As the founder and director of Conversations New York, Gross decided to bring the Conversation Stations to Great Neck a month ago.
In addition to the conversation groups, Gross co-chairs the University Seminar on Innovation in Education at Columbia University and is a published author with multiple books. One of his books is Socrates’ Way: Seven Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost.
“I kind of became a disciple of Socrates,” said Gross. “He devoted his life to enjoyable conversation, saying it’s the best way to spend your time if you can afford it.”
Currently, the Conversation Stations around Great Neck don’t have a specific topic for discussion. A book by Joe Keohane, a Gross friend, is called The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World. The book encourages overcoming the aversion, fearfulness and hesitation around a casual conversation with strangers, which is the basis of these Conversation Stations.
“We don’t have topics at the Conversation Stations now because we want to stimulate and legitimize more of a friendly and sociable atmosphere,” said Gross. “I’m delighted if people just say ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning,’ basically, using the stations as a way to chat.”
A few of the locations of Conversation Stations are on Bond Street, Grace Avenue and Station Plaza.
“You cannot walk up and down Bond Street on either side without noticing the bright green sign posted on some chairs and public spaces,” said Gross.
Gross and other residents using the stations have seen people sitting and chatting with people at the various posted areas. Gross shared that some people have even taken to adopting a chair and checking the signs or replacing them when the weather ruins them.
Andrea Taylor, a local Conversation Station participant, said, “I think it’s wonderful!” and introduced it to her online social discussion group sponsored by Project Independence, shared Gross.
With the current Conversation Stations around Great Neck, Gross hopes more people will engage in casual conversation with strangers. Gross and volunteers will bring it into the parks if the stations gain popularity and work with the Great Neck Library on hosting them.
Visit conversationsnewyork.com to learn more about the organization and the benefits of being open to talking with new people.