Guest Blog from Elyce Brown, Silverton Community Member and singer/songwriter
Maybe you love being around other people. Maybe gathering with perfect strangers is your ideal way to spend an evening. Or maybe, and maybe more likely, you're like me.
I am an introvert. I love to be alone. As an American, I am a product of our individualistic society, and I love the freedom of choice that our society champions. The prospect of Groupthink, a conformity of thought and the abandonment of truly independent inquiry and assessment, which can emerge out of self sorted bands of society, terrifies me. I cherish independence of thought, adhering only to what is true, remaining ever skeptical, and willingly discarding ideas that cannot hold up against questioning. On a much less noble note, when I contemplate joining a group event, my hesitation comes in no small part from the memories of all the stupid things that have escaped my mouth when I was surrounded by people I didn't know well and was awkwardly attempting to be a conversationalist. I spend a lot of time alone.
Yet, I recognize on a level equally intuitive and analytical, the immense value of joining with others to share space, time, and our brief experience of living. Life has taught me that the things that are most terrifying are often the most necessary. Too much of anything can be harmful. Too much comfort of independence can quickly become isolation, disconnection, and a very inaccurate assessment of yourself, the world, and your place within it. If I was ever feeling terribly exceptional (either at the talented or the deficient end of the spectrum), joining with others in community has always reminded me that my differences are swallowed up in similarities. How much of a self-professed seeker of truth can I really be, if I don't seek out the truth about myself that can only be found in the context of me within a group? Would any scientist claim to understand a wolf by observing it only in isolation? The wolf's behavior within its pack is an inseparable component of the individual. I cannot let fear of the next stupid thing I'm going to hear leaving my lips keep me from learning what that says about me. Besides the inconsistency between isolation and self-knowing, joining with others brings a whole host of benefits and experiences I'm not likely to have while alone: laughing out loud, the warm feeling of being kind, the kinship of connecting over shared fears and loves, just to name a few.
But still, I am an American living in America, and opportunities for communal experiences do not abound. We may enjoy going to a restaurant to feel the vibrancy that comes from being surrounded by others, but we are very unlikely to leave the restaurant with more friends than we had going in. Alain de Botton, in his book, Religion for Atheists, points out that, while restaurants may be seen as "refuges from anonymity and coldness, [they] have no systematic mechanisms by which to introduce patrons to one another, to dispel their mutual suspicions, to break up the clans into which people chronically segregate themselves, or to get them to open up their hearts and share their own vulnerabilities with others." De Botton points out ways in which the proximity to strangers required by sharing a meal around a single dinner table, even an act as seemingly inconsequential as asking a stranger to pass the salt, disrupts our ability to cling to an abstraction of "the other."
Am I overthinking a simple farm to table dinner? Well, not in the moment, at any rate. Because while I am there, seated at the table, learning new names, hearing new voices of laughter, witnessing the unique sparkles in strangers' eyes, enjoying my silent, inner amusement at all of our idiosyncrasies, and being nourished by a meal made with love, I'm simply having a really nice time.