Saturday, May 24, 2008

"May I Introduce . . . ?"

It's been edifying, milking present-day life lessons out of my Easter experience on the island of Iona nineteen years ago. Gives me something to ruminate over while I dig my vegetable garden.

One big piece of mental cud I'm chewing is how things coulda-shoulda-mighta been different between the young man I'm calling Lukas Renzberger* and myself that Maundy Thursday night during the tea break at the abbey. He confessed to me later that he thought I expected him to integrate me into the group spending Holy Week at the abbey, and due to the concealed conflict among those people, he couldn't deal with the prospect.

"Integrate," hmm? When I was doing an entirely different program in another building and only encountered the abbey group during worship services and evening tea times? Hey, guy, whatever happened to a simple introduction? Something like, "Blogwen, this is Malcolm. He's here from Edinburgh. Malcolm, this is Blogwen. We know each other from Oxford and she's from the United States." Straightforward, gracious, and leaving each introduced party free to pursue the acquaintance or not, as they wish.

The simple introduction: whatever happened to it, indeed? I've observed the past twenty-five years or more that the routine introduction seems to be moribund or dead. I recall in 1985 or so, standing with a friend in a recital hall lobby after a performance, when a young man came through the outer door and greeted the man I was with. The two began to talk, and I gathered that the newcomer had been the piano soloist with the city symphony at their concert the same night, and had come over to the other hall when he was done in hopes of meeting up with my friend, his old buddy from music school. All very interesting, but I was left standing there, irrelevant as a third wheel on a bicycle. Finally the pianist grew embarrassed at my friend's neglect, and introduced himself. If he hadn't, my friend would have chatted on and on and left me out entirely.

You see it all the time. People are together in a public place or maybe in a social setting, someone else joins them and greets someone of the original group, and the two focus entirely on each other and give the rest of the group no way to participate. Or it's the newcomer who gets left out.

The extreme version of this is the person who takes cell phone calls when she's in company. Not that anyone expects the recipient to introduce the caller to her friends who are with her physically. Which is a good reason why the cell phone should be put away on such occasions!

Then there's the larger impact of the decline of introductions. Used to be, thoughtful people would systematically introduce others to people it would be advantageous for them to know-- for marriage, for professional advancement, for social networking. Now we have to depend on Internet matchmaking sites and resume services.

Why do we not do this? Why has the introduction gone by the boards?

Some would claim it's because they don't want to meddle in other people's business. "After all, if he wanted to meet that big executive in his field, he'd introduce himself!" "I wouldn't think of introducing my niece to my friend's son who's just moved back into town! If she wanted to meet men, she wouldn't put in so much overtime at work!"

But I think it's just another sign of American individualism. Or, considering my experience on Iona, Western individualism. We focus moment by moment on who we are and what we want to do, with whom and when we want to do it. It's just too much trouble to expand our notice to include others, even others we've been with up to then.

American individualism can be a good thing-- if we spread it around and intermingle it so we all benefit. Making a point of introducing people would be a good place to start. At work. At parties. At church. Where you hang out. If you're concerned about protocol, it's the respectful thing to introduce the younger person to the elder. And, at the risk of being politically incorrect, the less experienced/less powerful/more junior person to the experienced/powerful/senior individual. And the man to the woman. But if you get it turned around, that's better than leaving a fellow human being dangling while you create your own private world with a third party!

Besides, if you introduce, you may find you get introduced-- to some people it'd be really valuable to know.

However-- however-- there is one place where the introduction is not dead. And that's in blogdom. It's called the link. It's the chaining blog awards given out by bloggers like Sandy and her colleague Daryl before her. It's cogent and thoughtful comments left on each other's posts.

No, we haven't met in the flesh; we don't necessarily know each other's real or full names. But in the virtual world we've been introduced, and that's been a benefit and a pleasure to us all.


Sandy said...

Manners, as we know and expect them, have all been chucked out the window, I'm afraid. As for cell phones... I only turn mine on when I'm going to use it. Otherwise, it's off. My son-in-law once said to someone in the family, in front of me, "Who has a cell phone and doesn't turn it on?" I stood there with my hand waving in the air! LOL

I thank you, dear Blogwen, for the lovely words. Thez medded me blush...

blackdiamond06 said...

Sometimes I think I know more about my online friends than I do about the people I share a classroom with in college. I went through almost an entire semester not knowing the name of anyone in my Cog Sci class...until a classmate of mine showed up at a party I was at.

Thank you for your perspective. It has really made me think that maybe my real-life shyness about introductions should be put aside to relate more to those around me.

I have three online names, and which every you know me by, (whiskers, gibsongirl, or blackdiamond), I'm really glad to be your (online) friend!