A YEAR AGO, I ended my debut Gather column with, “We are not as alone as we might think.” Writing about how people around Seattle find community has shown me that it’s more true than I ever thought.
While I’ve written about many sorts of groups, I’ve been struck by the common threads between them. These threads, strong yet vulnerable, bind otherwise-unrelated humans into collective essences much greater than the sum of their parts. As another new year dawns, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned:
1. If you have an interest, others share it. This region is home to a huge number and diversity of activities and interests. People all around us are gathering to celebrate passions, from astronomy to zombies. If you’re into something, chances are good others are, too. The internet is great for finding them, but the real payoff comes from meeting in real life.
2. People want you to join them. I think most of us fear that other people will reject us. But no, trust me: They want you. I’ve hung out with people from so many backgrounds — different colors, ages (recalling the community band where ages ranged from 17 to 90-ish), genders and abilities, born here or far away. And I’m not welcomed just because I’m the curious person with the notebook; I’ve watched groups heartily welcome other strangers, too. Groups can survive only if new people join. So join.
3. You don’t have to be good at the thing. People aren’t judging us as much as we think they are. Instead, they’re super-excited to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with less-experienced folks. My art skills are so rusty that I was sure I’d feel deeply uncomfortable with the guaranteed-more-talented people at a figure drawing session. They were definitely all better artists, but they didn’t care. If you’re interested, open-minded and willing to show up, that’s almost always good enough.
4. Everyone is afraid of strangers. I like to say that people are like spiders and snakes: They’re terrifying but just as afraid of us as we are of them. That might be a terrible analogy, but the point is true. I’m shy, and I have a feeling of dread every time I leave the house to meet new folks for this column. But within minutes of introducing myself, I start to relax. Within a couple of hours, I’m energized and enthusiastic about people and life in general.
5. Organizers make a difference. For a group to happen in the first place, let alone persist, it needs at least one organizer, official or not. These folks are often unpaid volunteers who step up and spend precious free time setting up events, answering questions, and welcoming and educating new members. I’ve been amazed, over and over, at how much these folks positively affect other people’s lives. And they do it not for any personal benefit but because they know someone has to. My hat is off to them. Consider becoming one of them.
6. Spending time with other people will make you happier. A lot of research shows this, but writing this column has reinforced it for me in a very personal way. In these divisive times, it can start to feel as if there’s no way a random person could get along with a given group of strangers. And yet I’ve felt warmth from my fellow humans every time I’ve met with people for this column. Leaving my house and my own little bubble has renewed my faith in humanity. I hope it does the same for you.