video link: http://youtu.be/x54Md1puim4
First the disclaimer. I am not calling any organization out directly, and I will not reveal where this happened so do not bother asking. K?
Everywhere we turn these days we hear people talking about building community. Churches, fraternities, sororities, civic clubs, even subdivisions. Sometimes I wonder if we really know what it means.
I attended a large meeting the other day. When the doors to the meeting room opened, I was one of the first through the door. The door holder said to me, "How about going over to the other side of the room." I understood the request as people tend to plop down at the table closest to the door and late comers have to wiggle to the far side of the room to find an open table. So I graciously complied.
People continued to file into the room filling tables passing by me and occasionally greeting me as they passed. After a few minutes, I noticed that no one was sitting down at the table where I was seated despite me knowing several of those filing past me and speaking. After about 10 minutes a member of the host team walks up and asks me to move to another table. Maybe there is something wrong with my internal wiring, but that just hit me wrong. I felt like I needed to apologize for sitting at the wrong table or perhaps for no one liking me enough to bother sitting with me. I did a quick sniff check. Yeah my deodorant was still holding up. I did not know everyone that had entered the room behind me, so I can not accept that I am such a jerk no one wanted to be stuck sitting with me. But there I was, and now it was my responsibility to get up and go find a table of folks to sit with that had made the choice not to sit with me originally. "Why would I do that?" I thought. If they chose not to sit with me when they came in, they obviously are not going to be real welcoming if I get up and walk over and sit down with them. Maybe the events of the last several days made me hypersensitive to it all. I cannot say for sure. But I can tell you I hated the feeling. I hated the feeling of being ostracized and rejected, but then to be asked to correct it just seemed really wrong.
I stood up. I looked around the room of tables filled with people happily chattering away and realized I was not welcome and could show myself to the door. I pulled on my jacket and headed for the door. Not a single word was spoken to me as I crossed the room and made my exit. I have seen this play out before and I'm sure I will experience it again. Maybe they were all just so caught up in their conversations they never noticed me sitting there beginning to feel like the last kid picked for a softball team in grade school. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe they did not notice me bolt for the door. I do not know. But I do know this: I do not stay somewhere that I do not feel welcomed and neither will your volunteers or clients.
If we are going to create authentic community, we have to be intentional. True, I could have obeyed and got up and moved. I have at least partial blame in this whole deal. Who knows, I might have gotten a warm reception at another table. But when you are feeling rejected, do you want to risk more of the same? At the same time, any 3 or 4 of the hundreds of people that walked passed me could have just as easily sat down with me.
My take away from this experience is this: I plan to watch for folks alone when I walk into a big rooms in the future and go sit down with them. Is not that true community? Seeking out the folks that do not seemed to be in the clique and making them feel welcome? Would you consider joining me?