“The most radical thing we can do is introduce people to one another.”
My kids’ old gym teacher had this bumper sticker on the back of her minivan. The first time I read it, years ago now, I nearly rolled my eyes. Over ten years on the East Coast will make you quite fine with remaining in your own bubble, only speaking to others if absolutely necessary. We don’t say hi when we pass each other on the street. We don’t even smile. I balk every time I attend an event requiring me to wear a nametag. If you don’t already know me, perhaps you don’t need to.
Do you have any of this cynicism in you?
The morning after I finished reading Ellen Pao’s book Reset, I felt pretty depressed about our default state to attend to our virtual lives more than our in-the-flesh, organic ones. For sure, I don’t naturally cross the room to learn your name, but in the past few years, I have witnessed the power of introductions. Sometimes, with all of my community organizing, I wonder what good I’m doing. Inviting people over for a party? Giving them space to discuss a book? What are we doing besides drinking wine and debating ideas without the pressure to attach them to action? Maybe we should take the time to be more productive in our various fields. Maybe I should get a real job.
But then I’ll go to the birthday party of one of my kids’ friends, and a mom will tell me,
“I didn’t know anyone at this school before I came to your house that time. I met so many people and it’s so nice to be able to say hi to them in the hallways during pick up and drop off.”
Talk about wow. That gym teacher was right.
We, culturally, spend so much time online living in virtual reality that taking the time to say hello face to face is nothing short of radical.
So the other week, when I found a lost wallet on the sidewalk, I cringed when I realized that in order to conduct a thorough search for its owner, I should post my find on various social networks. I would have to use the networks that had let me down as I read in Ellen Pao’s book about reddit’s defense of free speech that allowed blatant porn use and allowed people not only to talk about but encourage their heroin habits. When did we sacrifice taking care of each other in favor of letting our demons run wild?
But here I had a real world problem. I wanted to return the wallet to its owner. So I posted.
A couple of hours later I was connected via email and phone to the owner of the wallet. One of the social networks had worked, but the avenue that solved the problem the fastest was actually my personal email list for my neighborhood book club. One book club member recognized the name of her neighbor’s mother who happened to be visiting from California.
My own real life network solved the problem. I felt like my community work was justified all over again.
I still hate nametags. But we wear them at every book club meeting, as a way to welcome newcomers. Since my kids are all in school now, I spend much less time at the neighborhood park and out in the community these days. Consequently, I meet fewer new faces. I have to remind myself to take extra advantage of the opportunities that come my way to make new introductions. It’s effort. It involves coming out of my shell.
But I feel so much better when I run into you again, and I realize I already know your name.
What about you? Feeling radical today?
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