Monday, May 26, 2008

Community Building and the Tao of Woody

One of the great enduring Woody Allen quotes is this: "90% of life is showing up."

I thought of this quote while catching up with a couple friends this weekend over the phone and e-mail. They asked me how the whole "community building" thing was going and I relayed the good news that all was well -- I'm really getting to know a lot of folks up here, everything's becoming more and more familiar, and I'm starting to run into folks all over the place. It's a great feeling to see the dream coming into fruition.

To put it simply, just as being anonymous and a 'stranger' all the time sucked, being recognized and feeling like part of a community, well, doesn't suck.

When talking about it, I noted that the progress I've made in the past couple months isn't thanks to any special thing I was doing, saying, or any other type of sleight-of-hand. On the contrary, I'd say it's mostly just a result of "being there." In other words, just by showing up consistently to places and being a generally good person, you're eventually going to start making friends/acquaintances and starting to see yourself as part of a larger community. Before long, people will begin introducing you to their friends, and a cascading sort of effect starts to take hold.

I would say this could apply to anyone trying to find community. I forget which of the Malcolm Gladwell books this was, but I know in one he cited a psychological study about how babies are more favorably disposed to faces they've seen before. Adults are no different -- the more people see you, the more comfortable they become with you (assuming you're not a complete jerk with no social skills). It's not entirely rational (not being a stranger doesn't make you *not* Ted Bundy) but it's something innately human.

So, Woody Allen might've been onto something with the "90% of life is showing up" quote.

Also, here's more evidence that being nice to everyone you meet is not only a good thing to do, but also works to your advantage. In the Afterword to The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki writes, "For me, one of the key that we don't always know where good information is. That's why, in general, it's smarter to cast as wide a net as possible, rather than wasting time figuring out who should be in the group and who should not."

This seems like great advice for all people to heed. As someone who's been on the receiving end of a few eye-rolls and general scoffing from social climbers, I couldn't agree more. Just treat everyone you meet equally nicely, both because a) it's the right thing to do and b) it will ultimately enrich your own life when you do so.

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