A friend and I were chatting recently about efforts he was making to get people to come out to an event — a new thing his business was hosting not for the purpose of making a quick buck, but to encourage people to get together, enjoy each other's company and share their talents.
I shared my frustration with him, telling the tale of how I had gone to a similar event last month — and had been the only person in attendance. The owner of that particular establishment was disappointed, but not surprised.
I often hear people clamoring for more activities to alleviate the "nothing to do here" syndrome. "If only someone would host a (fill in the blank), I'd go," they cry. Yet, when that activity is scheduled, getting people in the door is an uphill battle.
To protect the innocent, let's say underwater basketweaving was the desired activity.
"I don't know enough about underwater basketweaving to go. I might do something dumb," says a would-be participant. "I mean, what if I go to the introductory class and don't like it after all? I don't even know the instructor." (A master of avoiding any possible risks in life, this person's conversation tends to center around the weather and their health.)
"Right," their co-worker agrees. "And they're having it the same night as 'American Idol.'" (There are passionate singers living in this person's neighborhood, but they would never trade the slick production of reality TV for a real-life concert held down the street.)
"Why am I just hearing about this now? I never know what's going on and I already said I could work that night," exclaims an eavesdropping customer. (The list of activities offered in our county is a mile long, but this person avoids reading the newspaper to learn the details and only uses social media for political rants, personality quizzes and saving recipes.)
"I'm doing so much already! Why do they always choose the one night a week I get to stay home," bemoans the next person in line. (This person has not attended anything that does not revolve around their children's lives for the past 15 years, seeing the over-crammed calendar as a noble sacrifice of parenthood.)
Yes, I am using hyperbole to make a point here. It is discouraging for these entrepreneurs who spend the majority of their time running the local businesses we all claim to want to continue to offer their resources to those who would rather sit on their couch.
Trying something new can be intimidating, especially if you are doing it alone, but it is not impossible.
Start with something simple — plenty of events require nothing more than your attention. Show up, take a seat and listen to a speaker share their passion or a musician play an instrument. Every month, there are a number of programs that are budget-friendly or even free. Check your local library and museum, they are often the host to these presentations.
Next, work your way up to participation. Beginning classes for anything — dance, art, kickboxing or welding — are not expecting experts to attend. Go, ask questions and learn a new skill. It may not be your forte, but you might enjoy it anyway. It is nearly guaranteed that you will meet people with similar interests, and may even make a new friend or three.
If you reach the level of cheerfully introducing yourself to strangers while taking part in a game night or memorizing a comic routine for an open mic event, you can consider yourself having vanquished your inner couch potato in favor of opening your mind to new experiences and acquaintances.
To retain and rejuvenate a sense of community, you must be willing to be a part of it.
Go. Have fun!