This past weekend, CCWSafe brought together a group of people from within the firearms and self-defense industry, and I was lucky enough to be invited. It’s always a little intimidating, going to events like this, and wondering if you’ll know anybody there and whether you’ll feel like you belong. You have probably experienced similar as part of events for the work that you do or for the hobbies and interests you’re involved in. Meeting new people and getting to know them well enough to call them friends seems harder, especially as you get older. At times and places like these, we hope that the commonality that brought you together is enough, but often we struggle to break the ice and to dive beneath the surface. We don’t even always want to, and that’s okay, but I’d suggest that there is so much we can gain by exploring the connections we might have with others that it’s worth the effort. Why? How? Let’s talk.
One of the most powerful ways we can enrich our lives is to expand our friendship circle. For those of us who have struggled as one against the world for too long, we can forget how much that’s true. To you, to us, I’d gently remind that there is power and enjoyment even in smaller connections and interactions. You can add humor and thought to your days through someone you might have a conversation with once or who becomes merely a person with whom you share occasional memes. As your network grows, you might be surprised by who crosses your mind when you see a small thing, and who thinks of you at similar times. The more of those folks who are in your life, the greater chance there is for the exact right opportunity to land in your lap when you need it. Some of it may be business or professional, for sure, but it may also be the smile you need on a dark day or the spark of creativity or purpose that drives your personal work.
Those once-in-a-while conversations at events or not-quite-weekly meme exchanges can turn into more sometimes. You’ll show up somewhere and you may only recognize one face, and gravitate to them because you remember that you’ve seen them before even if you can’t quite remember their name. You’ll go from joking about only seeing them once a year while asking how business is going to asking about their families or hobbies because familiar is still easier than someone you don’t know at all. Before you know it, the quick link you sent over because you thought they’d find it interesting turns into a days-long discussion between meetings and real life. That won’t happen with everyone, but if it’s only one out of ten acquaintances who turn into friends, and one out of ten of those who enter your inner circle, you have an awful lot of people to meet to grow your family of choice. It would be a shame, I think, to miss meeting the brother or sister of your soul because you were convinced you already knew everyone you needed to.
Other connections may not become lifelong friendships, but blaze as brightly to change you nonetheless. They can become inflection points when they open your eyes to an idea you hadn’t before considered in quite the light they brought to it. You might only spend fifteen minutes or an hour with them in intense conversation, and gain an understanding that never before occurred to you. It could be about a life experience you weren’t familiar with yet, or an opinion about an area of your passion, or simply a discussion you can’t describe at all after the fact but shifts the way in which you see the world or yourself. It might not even be what you talked about so much as how you talked about it or the fact that you screwed up the courage to jump into a conversation with someone you admired and discovered that they were just a regular person, interested in talking to you too.
When people enter places that have been created to bring folks together, part of the contract is that you go with an openness to open yourself to those meetings. Instead of going merely to hide in a corner with the ones you already know, it’s a time to include new people in the little conversational groups you gather into, and to awkwardly insert yourself into others. One of the funny things you’ll discover is that many others often feel exactly the same way, and that can in fact be part of the ice breaking. It helps, too, to remember that you are all in that space because of a shared interest or background. That wedge is where you can start discovering what else you have in common. Start, perhaps, by asking what it is that brought this new-to-you person here in front of you. What do they do or what are they excited about that brought them here? Ask them for their story.
Magic happens when you ask questions for the purpose of listening to the answers. This is true when you’re just getting to know somebody, and this is true when you are enjoying the relationship you’ve built to learn more about that person’s experience and knowledge. It comes from discovering a person in all of their complexity and nuance, finding all of the commonalities you have with them, in ways you may never have been able to guess, and all of the differences that could not have been clear to you from the surface. It can be tempting to formulate your own responses or arguments as the other person is talking, but imagine giving yourself permission to simply absorb what they are saying and pausing before you reply, to simply store up more questions instead of counter-answers to fill in gaps, to trade thoughts instead of present positions. For most of us, the exercise is challenging, but so rewarding when we manage it.
There is a saying that an individual is smart, but people are stupid. When we think about groups as a monolith, it’s easy dismiss them and the value they might add to our lives. It’s easy to decide that they are other, and not one of us. When we allow ourselves to connect with one person at a time, we begin bridging the distance between us and them. We learn their stories, and in their stories we collect individuals and gain empathy and understanding about the folks who aren’t like us. If we’re very lucky, we also gain people who add color and joy to our lives.