Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The MeetUp Group

Every once in a while I get an itch that can only be scratched by going out and trying something new and social.  In the past I've signed up for courses, but right now I don't feel like making that much of a commitment.  I want to go out when I want to go out, rather than knowing that I have to be somewhere every Thursday from 7:00 pm until 9:30 pm, even if it's pouring rain and I'm tired and grumpy.

I found the perfect solution at MeetUp.com.  There are plenty of groups that allow you to drop in for one session without making any further commitment.  Plus it's dirt cheap - the moderator of the group I attended only charged $5 per person to cover the cost of reserving the meeting space.  There are all types of groups: book clubs, hiking groups, singles groups, etc.  I selected one that listed its focus as "discussion of current events and other items of interest". 

It was definitely an interesting evening, although not always because of the discussion content.  What fascinated me was watching the group dynamics of a bunch of strangers in a room together discussing "hot" topics.  Different people had very different comfort levels with speaking their minds.  I figured that I may as well open my mouth and disagree with people because that's what we'd all paid five bucks for, right?  The chance to engage in challenging discussions.  If I'd wanted to sit around and make nice I would have joined an origami group.

There was a huge range of opinions represented among the two dozen attendees.  There were a couple of young bucks in suits, several people who claimed to be professional psychics, some extremely grouchy left-wingers ranting about the new Conservative majority in our federal government, a fellow who reminded me of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and many more.  We broke off into smaller groups, organized around suggested topics of discussion.

One guy wanted to discuss "Touch, sexuality, and love".  No one went to sit at his table.  He waited there like a leper for ten minutes or so, and then gave up and joined another group.  I felt a little sorry for him, but it was too creepy a topic to take up with someone you don't know and trust.

The first group I joined was supposed to be on the topic "Is our society based on lies."  I figured that could just be an easy and resounding YES! and then we could move on, but I was interested to hear about what lies were most troubling to my comrades.  A very friendly and bubbly woman that I'd been sitting next to all along immediately launched into "All religion is a lie!  Believing in God is stupid!" and so on.

Having seen that issue from both sides, I felt the need to challenge her.  I asked if she meant the King James Bible God was a lie, or if any and all conceptualizations of God were a lie.  "All of them!"  Well, there you go.  The discussion did move along, with one man at the table arguing for the existence of a Divine Something and most of the group sitting with their mouths firmly shut.  I challenged her on the notion that all religion is purely Bad, which to me is clearly an oversimplification, but we didn't get far from her original pronouncements.

(I have to say that the woman who was airing her views on the stupidity of all religion seemed like she would be perfectly good company if we were not deliberately discussing inflammatory topics. On the offchance that she should stumble across this blog, I would like to state that she was not at all aggressive, just enthusiastic, and I think we could have gotten along just fine given enough time, or a less inflammatory topic of discussion.  I'm sure that some of my lifelong friends may have similar opinions, and that's okay, because friendship is not based on agreeing about everything.  If that were the case most of us would have very few friends.)

The biggest problem with the evening was that people seemed to know how to trumpet their own views very confidently, and I suppose there was some amount of discussion going on in the form of arguments, but I didn't hear a lot of people asking questions.  There were a lot more pronouncements being made than explorations going on.  It's hard to learn something in a group where everyone thinks they already know everything.  Still, I'm glad I went.  It was definitely a stimulating experience.

Would you attend a group like this, given the opportunity?


LL Cool Joe said...

I have attended this kind of group. When we were going through the adoption process with our daughters and, evening meetings connected with the church. I can't say I would seek out this kind of meetup now, but I didn't hate it at the time either.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Way to social for me. An interesting though on this though. What if after expressing your point of view in the group you were then challenged to take ten minutes and then to the best of your ability argue the exact opposite viewpoint. It is sometimes quite an adventure to force yourself to explore an opposing mindset.

ileana said...

What a great question and topic. I'm glad you went and tried something new. I've joined an art meetup group and one that does painting while dancing (ha!), but haven't had time to participate in any of their activities. You've inspired me to explore it when I have more time away from hockey. It's a busy two weeks with tryouts and a weekend tournament coming up.

PS - Love how you described the folks, especially the one who reminded you of Dustin Hoffman. You're a great storyteller, amiga! :)

G said...

After doing that kind of stuff in the chat rooms for 3 years and getting battered from pillar to post, I am definitely gun shy in participating in things like that.

Jenski said...

Funny you should pose the question, because I was thinking while reading how interesting that would be. I would certainly have to be in the right mind-set and mood to participate, so being able to drop in would be ideal.

G has a point, although from the one class I took that started off similar to this meet up group, as long as the other people are respectful, having the discussion in real life reminds you it's a person and can produce more thoughtful deliberation...probably given less intentionally inflammatory topics.

Jameil said...

Definitely not. I like to discuss things when it's a discussion rather than a bunch of people showing off their ability to pronounce their ideas. This sounded slightly interesting at first but I don't think this would be my kind of thing.

San said...

I once sat in a women's circle for a year, one in which we passed a talking stick. This is a good practice, because the person with the talking stick has the floor and has her say, without interruption. It encourages the others to listen, rather than blurt out opinions. Sometimes in a group, the louder speakers take over, regardless of the value of their contributions.

Lynn said...

I admire you for going to this. I cracked up at the guy wanting to discuss sexuality. :) You describe this scenario perfectly.

darcknyt said...

I tried to leave a comment. Really. :(

DarcsFalcon said...

"Waited there like a leper ..." Okay, I don't know why, but that made me laugh out loud. :)

I don't know if I'd join a group like that - sounds almost like "blogging out loud." ;) Although I envy your bravery. I tend to just sit back and observe when placed in unfamiliar situations. I have to get my bearings before I feel comfortable enough to speak up. But I do like asking questions, even though I already think I know everything. ;)

Glad you had such a fun evening! Do you go alone to these kinds of events or does your husband or a friend go with you?

Sparkling Red said...

I go by myself. My husband is not so tolerant of random strangers as I am, especially ones who are very vocal about their opinions. What I find psychologically fascinating, he would find irritating. Anyway, since I went to find new friends, bringing along someone I already know might actually work against that goal. So, I goes it alone.