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Jean Vermette of Brewer is an electrician.
When I was younger (way back in the 1960s), my parents would host dinner parties at our house. These were exciting events for us kids. From our bedrooms we would hear the talking/arguing/laughing/singing voices of sometimes as many as 40 or 50 adults on the first floor. The next morning we would find the ashtrays full, the wine glasses empty, and the sink overflowing with unwashed dishes.
Even at an early age it became clear to me that my parents did not always look forward to these gatherings with great pleasure. Sure, they invited lots of their friends and had a good time with them; but they also invited lots of people who they did not seem to have much in common with and who they sometimes even criticized in the privacy of our home.
I sometimes wondered why they bothered to host those events and, even more, what possessed them to invite people who they didn’t particularly care for. I also wondered why those folks, who may have felt the same about my parents, deigned to accept the invitations, and why my parents often accepted similar invitations from those individuals.
It wasn’t until years later, after attending many town meetings, that I came to understand that what my folks were doing was “being social,” and that “being social” is very different from “socializing” (which they also did plenty of).
“Socializing” is what you do with close friends and family members when you want to have a fun or relaxing time. Together you go to a movie, take a long walk, go fishing or golfing, have lunch or dinner, or sit and chat for hours over tea, coffee, and sweets. You socialize with people who think and feel about things much the same as you do, and it fulfills, pleases and rejuvenates you.
“Being social,” on the other hand, is what you do with the extended circles of people who you interact with on a day-to-day basis (whether you like them or not). You greet strangers, you share not-too-personal stories, you take part in communal activities like attending the high school basketball games, you offer to jump-start their car on cold winter mornings, you become a member of one or more social service groups, you make and accept invitations to gatherings where not everyone is going to think or feel the same as you do. And you do all that with as much gracefulness and with as much of a smile as you can manage.
For all the bad rap that the American social scene got during the 1960s and 1970s for its perceived phoniness and insincerity (much of it deserved), I am beginning to understand that there was also an important component to it which has waned in the intervening years as the cult of “me-my-mine” has come into vogue.
That component was a sense of community; and since no community is ever composed of completely homogenous people, it was a sense that had to be worked at and built. “Being social” was the glue that held together the disparate groups of people and created community. Either consciously or unconsciously my parents and all the other grownups sensed that. In a very real sense, “being social” was not considered to be an option as it usually is today. It was considered a civic duty, much like voting.
When the annual town meeting was held, and you stood up to speak for or against some article which you knew many of your fellow townsfolk thought differently about, you had always in the back of your mind that these fellow townsfolk were people who you had shared bread with, whose homes you had entered, whose lives you at least partially understood, and who were to some extent as reliant on you as you were on them. I think that understanding tempered many a motion and many a vote at those town meetings. It allowed a sense of compromise and tolerance to flourish in the midst of disagreement and reinforced the sense that, like it or not, you really were a community and you really needed to pull together in order to pull ahead.
Pulling ahead is what we all want for ourselves and our families. As a community, the only way to do that is to make the effort to be social.