As someone who loves to facilitate connection between people, I was struck by this New Yorker profile of the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson. Here’s a quote from her book, “Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about it)“:
“Images of free market society that made sense prior to the Industrial Revolution continue to circulate today as ideals, blind to the gross mismatch between the background social assumptions reigning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and today’s institutional realities. We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government[emphasis added].“
What else could you call the modern workplace, where superiors can issue changing orders, control attire, surveil correspondence, demand medical testing, define schedules, and monitor communication, such as social-media posts?
—Nathan Heller on Elizabeth Anderson, The Philosopher Redefining Equality
Society’s structure and governance impacts almost every aspect of our lives. How civic discourse frames our actual structure and governance conditions what we think is ethical. Ever since Richard Cantillon and Adam Smith developed the concept of the free market, political economists have framed the choice for society as one between free markets and state control.
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Last Saturday, the ashes of my wife’s beloved Tai Chi teacher were interred in our tiny town cemetery. People came from all over the world to celebrate her life, but some could not make the journey. I was asked if I could help distant friends and students in the United States, New Zealand, and Germany to connect in some way with the ceremony.
My mission is to facilitate connection between people, and I said “yes”.
A quick trip to the cemetery established that a weak cellular data signal was available on site. After obtaining permission from the family I set up a Zoom streaming meeting for the group, and arrived on the day with a simple iPhone setup.
For some reason (perhaps the weak cellular data strength?) Zoom was not able to stream much of my audio, though the iPhone video was quite good, and I could easily hear the viewers’ comments. During the ceremony, I loved the group’s delight at various points; they were so happy they could experience something of what was going on.
I was moved by the service, which included raucous opening and closing parades with noisemakers around the cemetery, poetry, and a beautiful Double Fan Form performed by the Tai Chi group. Although I am a fan of low-tech and no-tech solutions at events, sometimes hi-tech is the only way to facilitate important connections under circumstances like these, and I am grateful to live in a time when we can bring people who are thousands of miles away into the heart of what is happening around us.
In early 2010, at the first EventCamp, I discovered the wonder and power of meeting people face-to-face whom I had previously only met online. Perhaps the wonder is stronger for me than most, living in rural Vermont, 100+ miles from any city. Nevertheless, when I travel to a major metropolitan area these days and have a few hours free I try to bring people together.
This month I spent time in Chicago and a couple of trips to Washington, DC. Before the first DC jaunt, I sent an email out to #eventprofs and #assnchat acquaintances who lived in the area. KiKi L’Italien, Lindsey Rosenthal, Angelique Agutter, Alex Plaxen, Melanie Padgett Powers, and more met up for delicious hors d’oeuvres and drinks at a private home (thank you Libby O’Malley & Nancy Pasternack!) and dinner in Alexandria Old Town.
And last week, Maddie Grant, Jamie Notter, Alex Plaxen, Brian Davis, Gina Leigh, Monica Bussolati, Moira Edwards, Brian Volmuth, Lori Woehrle, Pamela Strother (and probably a few others whom I didn’t get to talk to) met up at The Rooftop at The Embassy Row Hotel (big thanks to Sarah Vining who sponsored our meetup!)
I love bringing people together in ways that work for them—in fact that’s my mission. So it was a pleasure to host these three casual meetups for event and association management professionals. What was amusing, however, was how often people thanked me for bringing them together. I had to laugh—here was a guy from Vermont facilitating connection between people who all lived near each other, people who could easily arrange to meet frequently. And yet…they didn’t.
Sometimes people need permission to connect. In this case, a small outside impetus was all that was required. An hour of my time to send emails out to my local connections, find somewhere to meet, and track/answer questions from those who were coming. No big deal. And I doubt it hurt my professional life to be a connector, an initiator for the enjoyable and interesting connections that subsequently occurred.
Yes, we’re all busy. But let’s not forget that our work in the event and association spheres is fundamentally about facilitating connection between others. And that should, once in a while, include ourselves—our peers—both known and new. So, pass it forward, my friends. Once or twice a year, send out some invites for a casual get together with your peers. It needn’t be elaborate or have a specific marketing focus; just meet somewhere for drinks or a meal. Publicize the event to your local network and welcome anyone who hears about it and wants to come.
You’ll be bringing people together. Who knows what the pleasant consequences will be?