Conversation piece: How sweet to meet and greet

Column by Jim Bishop

“I think it’s so groovy now

That people are finally gettin’ together …”

– Friend and Lover (1968 )

It comes down to this: people are people, wherever you go, whomever you meet.

The majority of us walk upright, eat, sleep, pursue livelihoods, experience the gamut of human emotions and desire to grow in wisdom, stature and favor with God and each other. We don’t look, talk, act or think alike – thank goodness! Our personalities are as varied as the snowflakes that cloak this glorious orb in winter.

Some of the nicest, salt-of-the-earth folk I’ve ever met continue to surface in unlikely spaces and circumstances. Many of these pleasant encounters relate to responses to this column or the result of invitations to speak to church groups, retirement community residents or in area classrooms (the most inquisitive group who asked the best questions was a second-grade class at a Rockingham County elementary school).

So what appears to make people hesitant to intermingle in group settings, to express their views in public, especially from a podium, to want to ride solo through life’s passageways?

I’ve had to work at it over the years but have reached the point where I rarely feel intimidated in relating to persons on a one-on-one basis or in groups, mainly because I’ve found others to be normal human beings who get up on the same side of the bed each day to face many of the same concerns, uncertainties and quandaries as me.

I was reminded of this verity while interviewing guest artists involved in the week-long Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival – Michael Partington, guitar; Eugene Friesen, cello; and Anastasia Jellison, harp. Hearing them tell me about the time and commitment required to master their instruments was fascinating. None expected to make successful careers of teaching and performing solo and with renowned orchestras.

The probable response might be that because of what these musicians have achieved and are critically-acclaimed that they wouldn’t be approachable. I found them amicable, obviously enjoying making music for the sheer joy of it and eager to share their passion with others. Indeed, so many people have amazing stories to tell, and what we can learn from hearing them, well, can fill a book.

Granted, some people are naturally gregarious, while others lean toward shyness, and that’s all right. My concern is when others draw back from relating to the larger human family because of low self-esteem, and that’s regrettable.

The biggest hurdle to lowering protective shields and coming together, I believe, is thinking that just about everyone else is somehow better – in abilities, intellect, social status. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, and I concur, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

We have to first of all believe in ourselves if we’re to work confidently at building relational skills.

Another classic Eleanor Roosevelt observation applies here: “Friendship with ones self is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”

I’ve found over the years that one can move about confidently – maybe carrying a clipboard and wearing a lab coat will help (or, maybe not) – and relate to just about anyone if you properly introduce yourself, act genuinely interested in what the other is saying (even if discussing an issue you know virtually nothing about), listen more than talk and don’t overstay your welcome. Knowing when to excuse yourself and move on is essential to the process.

“People who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” warbled Barbra Streisand some years ago, an assertion that still rings true today.

So, for enlightening experiences, resolve to reach out in the darkness … and find a Menno-night.

Actually, the denomination isn’t what’s important; you are.

 

Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.

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