The room was constantly abuzz with curiosity. In the back room of the dimly lit restaurant newcomers would shyly approach the long table carefully, hoping to find a face they knew, a connection to the crowd. This is how a “tweetup” usually goes because as well as many of us know each other, it’s through our keyboards. The faces, the laughs, the eyes and the smiles are still apart. That’s why any of us tromp out into the cold of January in the first place.
But really getting to know people isn’t just about face time. It’s a learning process. That’s the message I took away from one of the many conversations I had.
The image of a lone warrior typing away at their own blog, getting their own message out, has a lot of appeal. The world we live in values individualism and competition. The isolation of a machine makes it far too easy to forget there are real people reading who have real motives and emotions far apart from our own. The secret to any good blog is stirring up interaction – not just debate or a stream of comments, but genuine interaction that has some kind of satisfactory conclusion. Do it often enough, and I think we have a community.
That’s why I had great evening at the tweetup. My favorite topic, connections, was thrown back at me with a tiny little twist that brought a new spark in the back of my brain.
“We all start out dependent,” my friend told me, with confident eyes and an easy patter, “Little babies are totally dependent on everyone around them. But we learn to be interdependent. That takes learning what we have to contribute and taking responsibility for it. We’re all responsible for what we can contribute to the world.”
The conversation went on for a long time and I can’t be sure I remember it perfectly. But that was the main point.
It stayed with me because growth and understanding is at the core of this way of looking at how people are connected together in one big unit we might call an economy, a city, or a family. Constant change is met with an active mind as the fabric of our lives is constantly woven all around us. It’s as dynamic as life itself.
What we all have to contribute, of course, varies from one person to the next. We all have different skills and strengths, giving rise through experience to different things we have to contribute. Unemployment is more than a personal tragedy, it is a waste of a valuable resource that has something to give us all.
More to the point, this perspective informs us on how we allocated scarce resources. We all want to be healthy, but do we know what we should be doing to promote our own health or to properly use the arcane system that exists to support us? Do our kids learn narrow skills that may be obsolete in a short time or do they learn what their talents are and how they can adjust them to always have something to contribute to the world?
Personal responsibility is at the core of any free society. But if people don’t know how their bit fits in, what can they do? Some are cast aside like garbage and appear to need constant attention. Some become angry, like a teenager trying to assert their control in what should one day develop into their responsibilities. Entire political movements of many kinds have developed around dealing with a clear lack of understanding just what it means to be interdependent.
It falls naturally in a crowded room of people who are sure they should know the situation but not the faces. Each person comes in from the cold carefully, pausing a moment to demurely unwrap, absorb the warmth, and survey the scene. Somewhere in this is the moment of recognition – there you are, how are ya, I was hoping you’d make it!
If only our politics was as driven to make that personal connection on a cold January night.