An islander who knows whereof he speaks recently noted that for some people the Vineyard off-season is one long meeting.
In the last eight months I’ve been to a bunch of meetings. Not all that many compared to what, say, my town government buddies go to, but more than I’d been to in the previous eight years. I’ve got one foot in the Meetings R Us world and one in the I’d Rather Go to the Dentist’s Than Sit Through a Meeting world. Out of the resulting dissonance this blog has come.
People who go to lots of meetings tend to believe that life revolves around meetings, meetings are real life, if you don’t go to meetings you are hopelessly out of it. This was also true in the women’s community from whence I moved to Martha’s Vineyard. I figure that anything the women’s community and Martha’s Vineyard, different as they are one from the other, have in common is probably true of human nature. One woman I knew in D.C. was such a meeting junkie that when she was in the bookstore where I worked, she’d always ask to use the phone, and the conversation would invariably be to follow up on the meeting she went to the night before or to urge someone to come to the meeting she was planning to attend that night. Now that we have cell phones, Twitter, and IM to do this, I’m sure the meeting junkies are in hog heaven 24/7.
I also know people who are convinced that if you aren’t on Facebook and don’t spend at least half your waking hours online, you are hopelessly out of it. What this suggests is that meetings, Facebook, and cyberspace are not the big issue. The big issue is that most of us are deep-down convinced that the life we’re living is realer than the lives other people are living, unless of course we see those other people at meetings or in cyberspace. Everyone, as I’m so fond of saying, is the hero of their own story.
So I’ve been to a bunch of meetings in the last eight months. Some of them were formal, like Martha’s Vineyard Commission meetings and West Tisbury board of selectmen’s meetings. A formal meeting is one at which familiarity with parliamentary procedure, like Robert’s Rules of Order, is a definite plus. Others were informal, like the meetings we roundabout opponents have had to brainstorm, share information, and strategize. At these meetings, parliamentary procedure is rarely invoked, but it helps if you use your eyes and ears more than you use your mouth.
“Strategize” — doesn’t that sound heavy? I’m starting to talk like a meeting junkie.
I caught myself a few times excusing myself from some activity by saying semi-apologetically “I’ve got a meeting.” This can be innocuous, a simple statement of fact, but sometimes it isn’t. Often a tone creeps in that isn’t apologetic at all: the subtext is something like Meetings are important, meetings are non-negotiable, if you want me to participate in your activity, you’ll have to accommodate my schedule.
The flip side of this, as any non-meeting junkie will point out, is that meeting junkies use meetings to avoid getting a life — exactly the same charge that non-cyber junkies level against people who spend too much time Twittering and Facebooking or yakking on their cell phones. “Too much” is of course a subjective thing. Most of the time, when most of us say that we are doing something “too much” — going to meetings, hanging out online, or eating chocolate — we don’t really mean it. What we mean is “I know you think I go to too many meetings / spend too much time online / eat too much chocolate, and I’m pretending to concede the point in order to get you off my case.”
If you don’t believe me, try this: The next time a friend says to you “I know I spend too much time [fill in the blank],” respond with “Yes, you do — I’ve been meaning to mention that” or something along those lines. If you can back-pedal real fast and if you’re real lucky, you’ll still be friends tomorrow.
So how do you know if you should be going to Meetings Anonymous meetings? That’s tricky. If you miss a meeting, do you hyperventilate, sweat profusely, and/or drink too much? Do you panic when you lose whatever device you use to keep track of your schedule? Do you wake up the morning after a meeting with no recollection of what happened at the meeting? Try going cold turkey for a few days. See what happens.