Monday, September 17, 2007

Polar Bear and Wildebeest in Cyberspace

I'm 90% polar bear and 10% wildebeest.

Like the bear, I enjoy solitude. I am content wandering the landscape of ideas, books, thoughts and mysteries. I enjoy the alone-ness of wilderness and a sense of self-sufficiency. I like tackling problems by myself and, when entering new situations, I like to do it alone.

Like the wildebeest, I have some need for a herd and social contact but it's a weaker need. Each winter, in the early mornings, I look forward to going to a hot tub in a resort near Phoenix and renewing friendships with snowbirds from Washington, Minnesota, other northern states and various Canadian provinces. If the conversation is good I'll sit for an hour or two and talk or listen. Finally, I feel the need for breakfast and the need to be alone.

What defines 'good conversation'? Ideas, debate, opinions that are new and alien to me, subjects that are complex without easy answers. When I was young I used to wonder why I couldn't enjoy talking about sports, the weather and the latest episode of some TV series. I'm old enough now to see this as a non-issue. We are male and female, young and old, introverts and extroverts, those who enjoy one type of conversation and those who enjoy another.

In my mid-twenties I had the desire to join some group of men in a semi-formal setting to talk about whatever subject may be the topic of the day. It never happened. Most small towns don't offer this type of opportunity. When I returned to college after four years in the military and two years working, I looked for this opportunity but failed to find the right group.

Last Fall it finally happened. A psychologist on campus started a "men's group" to talk about male issues, stereotypes and growth. We met during the Fall and Spring semesters and the experience was great.

Last Wednesday I received a last-minute email concerning the men's group meeting for supper at a restaurant in town. Four of us met and ate on the patio of a restaurant in the historic part of Flagstaff. The weather was perfect. For two and a half hours we caught up on one another's summer experiences. One man -- an electrical engineer who teaches at the university -- updated us on his wife's recovery from lymphoma. Another man -- a young man from Canada -- is in a wheel chair due to a motorcycle accident years ago and his activities and spirit are inspiring. The third person is a psychologist who has vast knowledge and a consistently wholesome and soothing demeanor. That evening was enjoyable and I left feeling euphoric.

This coming Wednesday the group resumes for the Fall semester. There will be some new members this Fall and I look forward to their perspectives. I had hoped a man of another sexual orientation would join the group that that failed to happen. I think that would have been a wonderful opportunity to get another perspective on what it means to be male.

As I pondered my need for periodic interaction with other men and a need to bat ideas around, it occurred to me that the web can meet some of this need -- admittedly not as well as sitting in a group but it can be a source of significant interaction. Occasionally, I encounter someone with a blog that leads me to feel a sense of connection and engagement. I'm intrigued and motivated by their opinions, experiences and the personality and values they project.

I can login and get my wildebeest need met by reading, commenting or emailing someone and feel a social connection. Then -- well, then I can logout and return to my polar bear life. I like that -- introversion or extroversion as and when I choose.


Blogger Steve said...

I think we are all in away pack animals. Well most are and some like to be the lone wolf, joining a pack when they feel the need and leaving when they want!

9/17/2007 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Hodgens said...


Re what defines good conversation...for me it involves:


a sense that no one has to rush in and keep the conversation going,

an awareness that the other person is listening,

and that both people are willing to explore and to be moved by both parts of the conversation.


9/17/2007 06:43:00 PM  

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