New discussion group in Kirkland takes on Great Ideas

Great Ideas discussion group organizer Margit Moore speaks with fellow member Jeff Wheeler. Great Ideas is a group centered around conversation and meets monthly at the Kirkland St. James Espresso. Topics range from love and courage to science and religion. - Raechel Dawson/ Kirkland Reporter
Great Ideas discussion group organizer Margit Moore speaks with fellow member Jeff Wheeler. Great Ideas is a group centered around conversation and meets monthly at the Kirkland St. James Espresso. Topics range from love and courage to science and religion.
— image credit: Raechel Dawson/ Kirkland Reporter

While most coffee shops are alive in the mornings as workers rush to grab their caffeine fix, some may argue St. James Espresso in Kirkland is truly vibrant in the evening - at least once a month, that is.

Since October 2013, the Great Ideas discussion group has held a monthly meeting at the cafe to discuss topic such as love, memories, courage and why there are so many religions.

“We say we’re not about finding a solution, we’re about finding beautiful questions,” said Great Ideas organizer Margit Moore. “The questions that really cause you to think and ponder and come to those conversations is what the goal is.”

St. James Espresso manager Matthew Reidt said he welcomes the community-centered meet up and is open a half-hour later during monthly conversation, as the group often becomes immersed in discussion well into the hour and a half that’s allotted.

Comprised of about eight people - five regulars and 20 irregulars - Great Ideas was formed by Moore as a way to provoke thought and learning from other people’s perspectives.

Moore, a Kirkland resident, has taught English, social studies and philosophy, and is currently in the process of opening up an alternative school.

She recalls a philosophy course when she once taught students utilitarian and universal ethics. To further study the concept of ethics, Moore had her seniors interact with first graders, who were studying what it meant to be good community members.

After reading the same book, the two groups of students came together and had an “amazing conversation.”

“The seniors were so blown away by what the first graders knew,” Moore said. “They said, ‘oh my god, that’s universal ethics. Oh my god, that’s utilitarian ethics!’”

Structured in the sense that everyone’s allowed time to talk and are discouraged from becoming defensive or pushy in their opinion, Great Ideas gives its members a chance to walk away more enlightened.

“I think each one of us, when we go into the discussion group, we always leave knowing a little bit more about our own selves,” said Jeff Wheeler, Kirkland resident. “When we ask those questions, not only are we pondering those questions that we want to know, but we also really want to know what others think and what makes it different, what in their mind is important.”

Moore and Wheeler’s favorite conversation was their most recent one, which centered on the topic of courage.

Many members had differing views on what it means to be courageous - psychological versus physical fear. The group also posed the question: What would you be doing in your life if courage was not an issue?

While Moore said she grappled with becoming a licensed foster care parent, the question caused her to take action.

Wheeler also felt the question solidified some answers in his own personal life.

“I started music in my late teens and stopped for a decade,” Wheeler, 33, said. “I guess I was always kind of afraid that if I took too much time in my life and didn’t focus on other things, it would hinder my professional life or future.”

Wheeler said he’s now actively pursuing his love of music and hopes to make strides this summer.

Others in the group committed to publishing self-written children’s books and teaching spanish in the U.S. and Spain.

“We’ve never really been on that personal of a level on any other topic,” said Wheeler, who will be facilitating the next discussion on identity, DNA and genetic engineering.

And it won’t be that “deep” each time, Moore said, but she does think if conversations are successful, it’ll leave a person thinking about the topic for weeks at a time, which is one of the goals.

“You do leave more each time thinking about that one word,” Wheeler said. “It’s very interesting what seven other people can do to open your mind.”

Which is why having a diverse group is critical to Great Ideas, Wheeler and Moore said.

People from Bolivia, Colombia, Ghana and, of course, Washington have all graced the coffee shop meetings with their unique ideas and perspectives, who differ in age from their 20s to their 70s.

“Sometimes people see Kirkland as a very white-bread sort of community and that there is a lot of wealth and education and advantage and maybe entitlement in downtown Kirkland,” Moore said, “but if you know about Kirkland … there is actually diversity in Kirkland and growing diversity, which is really exciting.”

Moore hopes more people from all backgrounds will join the Great Ideas discussion group to continue the quest for beautiful questions.

The group meets on the first Thursday of each month at St. James Espresso, located at 355 Kirkland Ave. in Kirkland. Their next conversation will be held at 7 p.m. on May 1 and will focus on identity, DNA and genetic engineering.

For more information or to get involved, visit or contact Moore at


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