It’s Never Too Late to Start a Group That Becomes Close-Knit

There’s a Relationship Revolution bubbling up and you’ve probably seen signs of it.

Rain or shine, for over a decade, my college friend Jane Burns has been walking the same route in Lake Oswego every morning at 7:00 am with the same hardy group of women. Neighbors yet strangers at first, the habit has bound them together.

Inevitably when the same people meet regularly they get in sync in mysterious ways; they talk in shorthand and know what each other are saying, even when they choose silence to covey it.

Every Wednesday after work, also for more than a decade, my friend Paul Geffner joins other men on the public basketball court next to the park and the tiny city hall in Sausalito. Watching the rag tag look of them when I’m on my regular walkabout with friends, it would be hard to guess what the men do for work or how much money they make yet it’s clear by the verbal jabs that they are thoroughly enjoying themselves. I know from conversations with Paul that the players have included two sushi chefs, an animator from Pixar and a stay-at-home Dad.

Walls fall with familiarity.

Over time, repeated a ritual gets us in sync so we see each other more clearly:

1. Our regular gatherings become the place where we are most likely to tell the stories that are giving our lives cohesion and meaning.

2. The gatherings themselves become, over time, an increasingly central part of the narrative of those stories we tell.

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

Why start a closed group?

When you start a group you have the opportunity to change the role you play in the stories you tell and you live. Change your story and you can change the kind of adventure story want for your life now.

In this time-starved, often transient world nothing beats the comfort of a regular ritual of face-to-face contact, especially sharing time in motion together, for becoming extremely familiar with each other and increasingly mutually supportive. We women, for example, don’t have to be twisted sisters.

Yes, it’s helpful to have slight acquaintances, especially as we are making radical changes in our life or trying on parts of our personality long forgotten. But, with the moves, job and life changes and fewer formal affiliations we can feel alone when our friends are in different parts of our lives and we do not have a regular group that knows us well.

Because we have fewer threads of continuity in our lives it is well worth the time to create a small group, perhaps around a shared activity however daunting it might be to suggest such a thing to others. That may be why so many book groups have sprung up – not just to discuss what we’ve read but how we felt about the book – and our lives.

My friends Diane Lee and Tom Morrison are having great fun with a group of food lovers who dine in a different restaurant each month. A client told me that he has been part of group that has gone to movies together, then met afterwards to dine and talk about them.  They just changed to meeting in one person’s home, sharing sofas and chairs, watching Netflix-streamed movies on a big screen, then dining in, potluck style around a table to discuss them.

Sometimes the best way to start a group is to have a convivial, sharing gathering and see how people gel or not.  Two ways to consider revolve around food, with the holiday coming.

“I missed all the girlfriends I left behind and often thought about how a grown woman would ever make friends like that again,” she said. “When I started throwing this party, I realized food is one of the best ways to bring people together” said Cookie Swap author Julia Usher.

Consider co-hosting your modern version of the cookie exchange or a Sunday potluck. By the way, last December a male friend who’d been working long hours on his biotech start-up wanted to start a regular gathering of friends who were not related to his work. So he hosted a cookie exchange with his men friends, suggesting that each bring a favorite they remember their mother or other family member made and to come with cookies and a related memory to share.  All nine showed up.

As you think of whom you’d like to get to know better in a group setting, consider two things.

First, settle on a core belief or interest that all potential participants share – your sweet spot of mutual interest that can bind you together.  Second, seek a diverse mix of individuals – not more than seven as that seems to be the limit for becoming close as a group.

“Groups become more extreme and entrenched in their beliefs and polarized from others when members only exchange information that reinforces their views and filter out all else or never learn of alternatives. Thus they narrow their options, and magnify each other’s prejudices and misconceptions.” ~ Cass Sunstein

Your variety of backgrounds means both a richer experience together but also the increased potential for misunderstanding or even conflict at times.  Yet the opportunity to share and grow exponentially more – emotionally and intellectually – is often worth the effort.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  ~ Carl Jung

If you  feel bold enough to recruit one likely member for a small group, then tell that person the core interest that you’d like all members to share. Ask for feedback and listen closely. That shared interest is the sweet spot and can be group glue. After you find your first person, agree on a total number and together agree on the third person to approach.  Involve all committed participants in choosing the next prospective member until you have reached your total number of members. Agree on a few rules of engagement on vital topics like confidentiality, format for meeting if any and let the rest evolve. You are more likely to build trust if you close the group at that number and focus on building the sense of “we” as you get to know and support each other over time.

One final thought: sharing experiences enables us to mirror each other’s emotions and thus feel greater empathy for each other. That not only brings us closer, evoking one of the most meaningful memories we can share, looking back on our lives, it positively affects the friends of our friend’s friends.

Our close-knit group’s mutual support ripple out in comforting ways we feel first hand and in ways we will never know.

As Marconi Iacoboni wrote, “Some of us cry when we watch sad movies or wince when we see athletes fall. This sense of shared experience is at the core of human experience. Because our brain has mirror neurons, we are capable of interpreting facial expressions of pain or joy, the first step towards feeling empathy, which causes an instinctively imitative response – the chameleon effect.

That ‘mirroring’ response enables two people to literally see they are more alike in that moment.  That similarity evokes familiarity and thus a feeling of comfort that can lead to mutual trust with others.”

8 Responses to “It’s Never Too Late to Start a Group That Becomes Close-Knit”

  1. Ben Ziegler Says:

    This is great Kare. I love your facility at tieing so many ideas together, and giving us an implementation plan too! Interesting idea of a group of men initiating a group start-up using a cookie exchange. That idea seems very fresh to me. Must be my gender.

  2. Kare Anderson Says:

    Coming from you Ben that is an especially gratifying compliment. Re men and baking (and cooking) it may be their boomer stage in life and willingness to experiment with activities they did not feel they had the time for earlier in their life. I know more men than women, for example, who are enjoying cooking unusual meals these days. Maybe you’ll host such a thing up there in Victoria this holiday :-)

    Potlucks, by the way, have long been one of my favorite ways to have dinner parties yet i was a bit abashed to do so as it might look like an attempt to be cheap. Seeing what others bring and why, especially around some them is such a fun place to sharing stories as we dine.

    My godkids had a fun event at school where the grandparents were asked to bring some momento and food dish to the school auditorium one early evening and all the kids and parents went around and sampled and met the grandparents… many from different cultures. it was meant to last 2 hours and lasted four because people (all ages) got so engrossed in conversations that they would not leave.

    Now that is a problem I wish would happen more often in my country.

  3. Michael Margolis Says:

    Hi Kare –

    Love your post, and echo Ben’s statement on how well you connect the dots.

    We all seem to be seeking our new tribes. It’s what inspired us recently to organize the Reinvention Summit: a two-week virtual summit on the future of storytelling. Taking place online now thru Nov 22, and recorded for playback. Access is super cheap so anyone can take part – http://www.reinventionsummit.com

    Our intention is to gather a new tribe of storytellers: changemakers, marketers, and creatives who believe in the power of storytelling to reinvent the world. Would love to offer you a complimentary media pass so you can come and take part. And we should talk about plugging you into the mix for Summit 2011.

    Thanks again for your great work and writing. Excited to talk story again and grateful to have reconnected through your blog post. Hugs, Michael

  4. Kare Anderson Says:

    You “sound” quite excited about your event for your tribe Michael and do tell how they collaborate ….

  5. Mark Welch Says:

    Living in a small town as I now do, one would be surprised how difficult it can be to connect with other men. Unfortunately, unless one is into the bar scene, hunting, or fishing, or golf it can be tough, but there is usually a niche’ that can be found. Just have to dig a little harder. For me it’s been through my church group – a Sunday evening small group that studies scripture and has a lot of socializing with it, but this is couples – not for men only. We are looking at starting a mens’ group soon, however.

    Honestly, I lived and worked in college towns for a lot of years and that environment is what I liked the best. So eclectic, diverse, with the people and the thinking. Constantly, the flow of new blood and people in and out of the college. Very healthy, IMHO.

  6. kare anderson Says:

    Mark,
    I trust there are compensating factors for living in a small, non-college town for you… hopefully. One idea is to start a mens’ group around some shared interest – either within the church or elsewhere. Ironically I know more men in men’s groups now than women in women’s groups – they range from (ostensibly) poker nights to eating out at different restaurants or in each other’s homes to doing a project or learning something together.

    If you do start one I hope you share your experience with us.

  7. Lori Says:

    Finally catching up on all the reading I didn’t have time for the past 2 months. Lovely post, as always, Kare. Will be using your advice to co-create an emerging organization this year. Thanks!

  8. kare anderson Says:

    What an honor to get a compliment like that from wise you Lori and I really look forward to hear about your new organization.

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