On Thanksgiving, and on every other day of the year, I am thankful that no one has found—and no one will ever find—a vaccine or a cure for Introducer’s Mania.
Since the syndrome of Introducer’s Mania does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), I believe I have been given the honor to draw on my half-century of living with this condition and to draft its first-ever definition and characterization.
An individual with this condition is governed by a chronic compulsion to introduce people to each other. Encountering any two people, the affected individual will ask, “Have the two of you met?” If the answer is, “Yes, we first met in kindergarten” (alternatively, “Yes, we are longtime business partners,” or “Yes, we have been married fifteen years,” etc.), the compulsive introducer will retreat. But if the answer is “No, we have not met,” the individual will become exhilarated and begin introducing the two with zeal and passion. It is a striking aspect of this condition that scale is of no consequence. Introducing two people to each other will arouse as much exhilaration as introducing a speaker to an audience of thousands.
There has never been a verified report of an individual with Introducer’s Mania complaining of the condition. Even when a diagnosis of Introducer’s Mania is beyond doubt, it is inadvisable to say to the individual, “Our tests have revealed that you suffer from the mental disorder of Introducer’s Mania.” Saying this is certain to trigger the response, “I do not suffer, and this is not a disorder. You would be very lucky to have what I have.” When medical professionals unthinkingly trigger this response, they are advised to respond, “OK, have it your way.”
A Short-Cut to The History Of “Cutting”
The practice we know as social ostracism—treating a group of people as a repellent set of alien others whose company cannot be borne—has been around for a long time. In one of the least appealing dimensions of human nature, this has often been practiced as if it were an art or a refined skill to be performed with pride.
In Victorian England, among the middle and upper classes, the conduct called “cutting” reached one of its peaks. To “cut” someone was to treat that person as if she or he did not exist and deserved no acknowledgment or recognition. Over time, the verb “to cut” lost much of its market share, and we are more likely to use words like “shun,” “snub,” “ostracize,” “dismiss,” “ghost,” or “blow off.” But the word “cutting” carries the sharpness that the word choices of our time do not fully convey.
Like many of the bad habits we now amplify with social media, cutting is far from a twenty-first century invention. But Victorian England had come up with an allocation of labor in cultural conduct that we can still put to use.
In nineteenth century England, influential groups in society worked away at devising rules and customs of proper—and often pompous and self-congratulatory—conduct. Meanwhile, almost singlehandedly, Charles Dodgson-a.k.a. Lewis Carroll—performed the critically important job of mocking nearly every one of those rules and customs.
In the troubled times of the present, we pay no attention to one route to regaining our individual and collective mental health. Giving this a try would demand very little time and deliver extraordinary benefits.
Here’s the plan.
Everyone who is willing invests a few minutes in reading the second to the last chapter in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
In Chapter Nine, the one-time pawn Alice has arrived at the far side of the chessboard and acquired the status of Queen. The Red Queen and the White Queen welcome her to her royal status, though “welcoming” proves to be a synonym for tormenting her with a strange arbitrary and punitive form of conversation that, in almost every passage, seems to set the precedent for our civic conversation today. In fifteen peppy pages, Lewis Carroll jumped ahead in time (and a great deal of time-jumping happens in his writings) to give us an extraordinary opportunity to reconsider our own failing customs of communication today.
The Red Queen and the White Queen host a banquet where they pepper (so to speak) Alice with befuddling questions and comments. In the midst of this rough sport, the dinner is—more or less—served. Indeed, for any readers in 2020 who may be sad that they are missing their traditional Thanksgiving dinners, an immersion in the story of this uncomfortable banquet may relieve some of that sorrow.
The Red Queen officiates as the waiters present the meal. “You look a little shy: let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,” she says to Alice. “Alice—Mutton. Mutton—Alice.”
The leg of mutton then shows its familiarity with Victorian manners, getting “up in the dish” and “making a little bow to Alice.” She returns the bow, “not knowing whether to be frightened or amused.”
And then Alice betrays her ignorance of the rules of social conduct, by “taking up the knife and fork” and offering to carve the leg of mutton, politely asking the other Queens, “May I give you a slice?”
The scolding she earns is very harsh.
“Certainly not,” the Red Queen said, very decidedly: “it isn’t etiquette to cut any one you’ve been introduced to” [my emphasis].
The waiters take their cue and carry the roast mutton away, bringing “a large plum-pudding in its place.” Having partially learned her lesson, Alice moves fast: “I won’t be introduced to the pudding, please,” she says, “or we shall get no dinner at all.”
Things get worse, but I am stopping here. (But please, please, please: find Chapter Nine and read the whole thing!).
And now to assert the relevance of this story to our fractured and fragmented nation in 2020.
The Red Queen got it right.
We should not cut anyone to whom we have been introduced.
And if that’s true (and it is!), then it is time to unleash a multitude of introducers, who will introduce up a storm and cut short (yes, so to speak!) the current national passion for shunning, snubbing, ostracizing, dismissing, ghosting, and blowing each other off.
2020: Our Moment Has Come
The Proclamation of November 26, 2020
Comrades with Introducer’s Mania, Unite!
You have nothing to lose but the despair of thinking that you cannot do a thing about your nation’s divisions.
In Thanksgiving week of 2020, our nation is in a state of disorder and division that no one can be thankful for.
Or, to say the same thing with a much more positive cast, the time has come for all of us who will never be cured of Introducer’s Mania to come to the aid of our country.
Those of us who are subject to Introducer’s Mania begin by finding pleasure in introducing people to each other who we think are going to like each other.
But then we move on to the satisfactions that come from re-introducing people who think they knew each other, but who actually need to start again from scratch.
And, once we have fully come to terms with our irrepressible enthusiasm for introduction, we are then magnetized by situations where we can introduce people who may not, initially, like each other a bit. Resembling participants in extreme sports, individuals at an advanced stage of Introducer’s Mania live happily with the knowledge that adrenaline is a wonderful, naturally produced, entirely organic chemical, and easy to summon if you put timidity aside.
I am 100% certain that there are millions of people who are my equals in Introducer’s Mania, but who have not yet realized that this is our moment to save the nation.
Since we can be certain that very few of those millions are not reading the November 26 post of “Not My First Rodeo,” please do everything you can to call it to their attention.
Making a Stupid Remark Sets Me Up to Meet Smart People:
A Paradoxical Tale
How is a torrent, a gale, a storm of introductions going to help our troubled nation?
At this point, an example would probably help readers who have not seen this magical remedy at work.
This story begins with me asking for trouble.
I was lining up to board a plane when I got a call from a reporter at the now-departed-but-then-vigorous Rocky Mountain News. In a recent study social scientists had mapped concentrations of intelligence in several Colorado locales, identifying several cities with an unusually large presence of residents who had earned degrees beyond the B.A.
Did this mean that these communities had an unusual concentration of smart people? Or could it be that the academics—who had performed this study and who almost certainly had advanced degrees themselves—had been governed by bias in their selection of the criterion for identifying smart people?
So the reporter asked me to appraise the study, and particularly to share any experiences I might have had in those cities, observing human intelligence shifting into a high gear.
While I do hold advanced degrees, the correlation between intelligence and post-graduate work was not evident in the response the reporter elicited from me.
I commented on well-educated people I had encountered in a couple of the cities, and then we spoke of Lakewood.
It is a well-known fact that Lakewood hosts the Federal Center, and many people who work there have advanced degrees. But this fact got crowded out of my mind by another, more compelling reality: it was not easy to put my suitcase into the overhead compartment without dropping the phone.
So this, in a pretty close paraphrase, is what appeared, as a quotation from me in the next day’s paper.
“Lakewood . . . Lakewood. I don’t really know much about Lakewood. I’ve driven through it, but I really don’t have a clear impression of it.”
A couple of days later, when I returned from my trip and walked into the Center of the American West’s offices, our administrative assistant was responding to a request for my mailing address from the Mayor’s Office in Lakewood.
When the letter arrived, it was sited at the peak of grace and good nature.
Mayor Steve Burkholder opened with a kind remark about having heard me speak on an occasion or two. But he then noted that, having acquired a favorable impression of me, he had been caught by surprise when he read my emptyheaded remarks about his city. (He is a diplomatic man, and he did use the word “empty-headed.”)
But he did not give me up as a lost cause.
Instead, he made an offer I could not possibly refuse: Would I accept an invitation to visit so that he could introduce me to smart people in Lakewood?
Has an individual who blurted a witless remark to a reporter ever received such an unearned and undeserved reward?
It seems unlikely.
I loved that visit. I learned about the impressive ways that Mayor Burkholder and the city’s residents were creating a robust civic core for a city that came into being with the layout of a stretched-out, centerless line of residential areas. I learned about the efforts that Mayor Burkholder and the city’s residents were making to build ties and alliances across ethnicities and nationalities, in a forthright reckoning with the city’s origins, in large part, as a reaction against Denver’s school desegregation.
And, with the reporter from the Rocky Mountain News joining us on our outing, my remedial education and redemption registered on public record.
Embracing the risk of stating the obvious, I now declare the relevance of this story for 2020.
Mayor Burkholder would have been entirely justified in writing me an angry letter condemning my remarks about his city.
He could, in other words, have shunned, snubbed, ostracized, dismissed, ghosted, and cut me.
Instead, he introduced me to people I had always wanted to meet, even though I had, unthinkingly, put myself on public record as doubting their existence.
Can overtures and initiatives that opt for introductions provide an alternative to angry stalemates?
An Unpromising Start: Neither Introduced nor Introducing
Introducer’s Mania often manifests itself as a late-onset syndrome. Using myself as a test case (which I can do without having to prepare and sign my own “human subjects research” permission form and submit it for review by the University’s Institutional Review Board), I will present a hypothesis that I believe to be sound: Context plays a much bigger part than genetic predisposition in inducing the presence—or absence—of Introducer’s Mania.
My own origins discouraged the emergence of this character trait. I was born and raised in a small town. Since I debuted on the planet as the infant formerly known as Pat and Grant’s third daughter and Carole and Ingrid’s baby sister, I did not have occasions to introduce myself to anyone for the better part of two decades.
And, if I had undertaken to introduce any of my elders to each other, they would have called my parents to ask if I was OK.
And yet we might be tempted to speculate that spending my formative years in this manner could build up a great reservoir of stored-up “desire to introduce.”
Not in the least.
I did have a few episodes of imagining that, released from the constraints of my hometown, I would emerge from my chrysalis and appear, transformed, as a social butterfly. But these fantasies crashed into an assessment of my character reached by everyone who knew me. In the twenty-first century, I would have been labeled an introvert. But in those days of yore, I was understood to be very shy. Either way, there was every reason to think that I was going to remain a permanent occupant of my chrysalis.
Situating my own story in the patterns I have observed over decades of watching teenagers become young adults, I can say one thing with certainty.
Anyone who observes a teenager and thinks, “I know who she is,” will soon have another think coming. When I departed for college, no one knew who I was, least of all me.
A New Age Then Began
In the Fall of 1968, my parents deposited me at a residential college at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Not long after they left, I walked into the Cowell College dining hall with a tray stocked with food and a mind stocked with terror.
The room was populated by strangers.
There were groups of people seated at different tables. Maybe I should join one of those groups?
Those people wanted to have each other’s company, and they did not want a stranger to intrude.
Then I would have to sit by myself at a remote table?
This was my first day at college, and if I chose a seat in isolation, then I would spend my undergraduate years as that mysterious person whom no one had ever met, since she evidently wanted to sit by herself.
This impossible choice brought me to a complete halt.
And then the condition we are calling Introducer’s Mania saved me. There was a third option.
The terror had subsided just enough to permit me to see three or four individuals who were sitting alone. So I set off on a circuit of the margins, edges, hinterlands, and backwaters of the dining hall, proposing that these isolated folks pick up their trays, relocate, and join me and each other.
To my amazement, all of them said, “OK.”
Close on the heels of Introducer’s Mania, I soon learned, comes Introducer’s Responsibility.
I instantly knew I had forfeited the right to shyness. It would have been unconscionable to bring this group together and dissolve into my own lack of confidence. Someone had to take the role of introducer, and as the person who had brought this group together, I had to take on that role. So I began asking questions, none of which were the least bit witty or memorable or inspired: “Where is everyone from?” “How did you choose this college?” “Do you know what you want to major in?”
None of the questions were scary, and so no one needed to be scared. My companions turned out to be happy to meet each other and to chat.
An even better outcome was that I was no longer standing, scared to the point of paralysis in the dining hall.
And now for the lesson ready to be extracted from this story.
Where would we want to look for a pool of people who are primed to embrace Introducer’s Mania?
We would seek out the people who, as children, were categorized as intrinsically and inescapably shy (the term of the 1960s) and introverted (the term of the 2010s).
Because those of us who got placed—and who compliantly placed ourselves—in that category are utterly familiar with the awkwardness and discomfort that keep people distant from each other. We have every reason that empathy can provide to feel motivated to rescue other people from isolation—in order to rescue ourselves.
“No man is an island,” John Donne wrote, but he needed to think a little more about that claim.
Some men and women conduct themselves as if they were islands—until a person possessed by Introducer’s Mania paddles up on shore.
Introducer’s Mania on A Whole Other Level
Around ninety years ago, my mother walked into the University of Utah Library. She glanced off to one side and saw a young man she thought was handsome.
What to do? How to arrange an introduction to this fellow?
The handsome young man was in conversation with a person who my mother did know—Bob Colyer—who she had met in the MacDowell Club, a group of students who studied piano.
My mother shifted her course and walked over to say a friendly hello to Bob Colyer.
Complying—knowingly or not—with her scheme, Bob Colyer then introduced Patricia McOwen to Grant Nelson.
And here I am today, with my existence made possible by a crafted and manipulated introduction in the University of Utah Library. Many years after this encounter, providence performed some crafting and manipulating of its own, arranging an improbable “small world” episode. I was invited to give the banquet address at a fundraising event for the University of Utah Library.
I got to give a speech to raise money for the institution that made my existence possible.
But that’s only a small side-trip in this story.
Having introduced my prospective mother and my prospective father to each other, Bob Colyer came down with a lifelong case of Introducer’s Mania. He had grown up in the mining town of Bingham Canyon, Utah, and so he may have had a momentum very similar to what would drive me. He left the small-town where everyone already knew him, and he figured out a way to live in a world where he could transform strangers into familiar folks. Whether or not introducing my parents to each other was his maiden run with Introducer’s Mania, Bob Colyer stuck with the program.
In the early 1980s, when Jeff Limerick and I were living in Arlington, Massachusetts, we heard from Bob Colyer, who was planning a trip to New England. Following his lifetime habit in anticipating a trip, he reviewed his voluminous address book with care, scoping out his contacts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
A madly eclectic group of us showed up and introduced ourselves to each other—purely because Bob Colyer told us to do so. We assembled at the house of a man who, as a child, had been one of Colyer’s piano students in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Everyone in attendance had undergone some comparable twist in life that landed us in his address book. I remember especially the nice young man from Rhode Island who had stopped by a neighbor’s house to say a quick hello, and learned that his neighbor had a houseguest, an old friend named Bob Colyer. The next day, the young man from Rhode Island had not only landed in the address book, he had been persuaded to drive the houseguest to his next rendezvous, where the young man from Rhode Island was instantly melded into the New England chapter of the Colyer network. I also remember meeting a pair of scientists who studied how bacteria reverse their north/south orientation to accommodate magnetic shifts in the poles. That conversation seemed fitting, since we had all modified our orientation to accommodate the magnetic shifts of Colyer’s Introducer’s Mania.
Here’s what I used to wonder but did not ask when I had the chance.
Did Bob Colyer ever realize that he had been only a pawn in my mother’s scheme to meet the handsome young man with whom he happened to be in conversation? Or did he think that the idea to present Patricia McOwen to Grant Nelson had arisen purely from his own genius as an introducer?
Here’s the answer to the question that I now find convincing.
People who carry an unfortunate immunity to Introducer’s Mania will always have to feel resentful when they realize they have been used. But to those of us who have accepted our compulsion to introduce, any such resentment is completely foreign. Instead, we are happy to have played our part in the cause of making sure that two people, who really needed to meet, did so.
When people with Introducer’s Mania feel that we have been used, the next sensation we feel is gratitude.
The Shy Helping The Shy
Here is a proposition for which there is abundant proof: when a person categorized as shy, timid, and socially awkward realizes that someone needs her help, the chrysalis breaks up and the butterfly emerges.
When Jeff Limerick and I moved to the Boston area, I was completely preoccupied with preparing for class, in my first-full time teaching job. My claim on Introducer’s Mania came close to fading away: since I knew almost no one, I was hard put to find anyone I could introduce to anyone else.
Looking for a change of pace, when I learned that a performer who I admired was going to do a show in Boston, I bought the expensive tickets that would let us attend the private reception with the celebrity after the show. (Referring to this person by name would pose a distraction with a whole other set of stories, so I am letting him stay anonymous.) But at the reception, surrounded by strangers, I relapsed into the shyness of my childhood.
I took refuge in a corner ten feet from where the celebrity stood, surrounded by enthusiasts. I did think it would be nice to meet him, but I could do nothing to make that happen.
The corner in which I was hovering did offer a good view, and I was soon joined by a woman whose fanhood far exceeded my own. As she told me about herself, I realized that the celebrity a few feet away from us served as an anchor for a person who was at sea. Several times, my companion in the corner said that she would give anything to meet the celebrity, but she was simply too nervous to approach him.
And, with that, my relapse into shyness ended, and Introducer’s Mania came back into play.
“I have noticed,” I said to my new friend (who I will call Sharon), “that the performer has finished the beer he was drinking. Now he is stuck holding an empty beer can, and he has no place to set it down. Here is what we are going to do. We will move towards him, and then I will say to him, ‘May I help you find a place to put that beer can, and perhaps get you another beer?’ This offer will make him happy, and then, before I head off with the beer can, I will pause and say to him, ‘Oh, while I’m here, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Sharon.’”
This plan delivered a certifiable win/win outcome.
Sharon got to talk to the celebrity who meant so much to her.
And I got the celebrity’s beer can.
When we got home, I placed the beer can on the mantel in our living room as a treasured souvenir. Several months later, the treasured souvenir got mixed up with a bad crowd at a party and went into recycling.
A Reason for Hope on Thanksgiving in 2020
The Red Queen got it right: We should not cut anyone to whom we have been introduced.
Introducers, your time has come.
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Photo Credit: Red Queen lecturing Alice image courtesy of: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Leg of mutton image, courtesy of: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Beer can image, courtesy of: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Banning, California image, courtesy of: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Cowell College image, courtesy of: Wikipedia