If not now, when? As years have passed since college graduation, I’ve envied classes that meet on a regular basis. My graduating class does a decent job showing up for momentous occasions. We had a good turnout for our reunion last fall; and when our West Point classmate, Dick McEvoy, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in January, members of the class rallied to commemorate his life and support his family. Unfortunately in the case of funerals, the guest of honor can’t appreciate the efforts.
In the mid-90’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Harvard author, Robert Putnam posited that social networks have value; both individually and collectively. Being well connected may help a person find a job or get needed information, such as a referral to a plumber or doctor. The common good aspect of social capital ensures children are safe playing in neighborhoods or someone will offer to help if you slip on the ice. While we certainly are more digitally connected, who might respond if you needed in-person help some evening? Relationships boost your happiness and your health. It’s a win-win: enrich your life AND improve your health by hanging out. In the book, Presence, the author suggests that when we meet someone, we are looking for answers to two questions: Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person? The four year West Point experience, with its rigorous vetting, implements a form of background check. We assume that graduates are honorable and competent; providing a built-in shortcut for friendships.
In my quest to gather information to catalyze more regular gatherings, a friend shared his class’ periodic events and referred me to his classmate, Rob Grubbs (USMA ‘78)—an example of a social network in action. Rob, the connector for his class, provided particulars on convening small groups and practices that seem to work well. Another class has established a template for luncheons, rotating monthly meetings at three different locations around DC. Mark Wolf (USMA ‘86), coordinating for his class, cleverly piggybacked on a free West Point Society of DC networking breakfast (membership dues at work!) at the annual AUSA conference.
The whole process is really pretty simple; with the toughest step being—GETTING STARTED–which is often the deal breaker.
The event formula fits on an index card: date + time + location + messaging
- Choose a date and time, with consideration to people’s schedules. We opted for workday happy hour; omitting Thursday and Friday due to restaurant crowds. Set a reasonable length of time. Leave them wanting more.
- Choose a location. Give options beyond the ever-uncertain Driving in DC day- and nightmare. Look for a venue with access to metro and parking.
- Money: Decide on separate checks or a tab for the group; which may depend on the restaurant’s policies. Consider convenience for attendees and the wait staff. Over time, excess cash collected can be donated to a suitable charitable endeavor.
- Get the word out: Use as many ways as possible. While word of mouth is most effective, try whatever is within your capabilities including social media, email, phone calls, or even letters.
Someone has to get things going. As organizers, we picked a date/time/location to get something on the calendar; knowing there is no perfect day, location or time. Remember two universal laws: you can’t make everyone happy (corollary: someone is going to be unhappy) and not everyone wants to gather. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, so a routine will minimize decision making. Since our first outing worked well, we will copy & paste that plan: same day, time and location monthly. People who want to attend, can block their calendars for happy hour on the last Monday (TGIM), except holidays. The bonus to this arrangement is, if out-of-towners are traveling to DC, they will be aware of a regularly-scheduled local event.
Arlington National Cemetery is less than a mile north of Sine Irish Pub (SIP). When the occasion arises, we will meet at the cemetery; events that will become more commonplace as time goes on—fact, not morbid. Let’s gather while the going is good and raise a glass to the memory of Dick, other fallen comrades, and to life. Wish you were here…
© Joan S Grey, 25 Feb 2016
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