Bowling Alone? Not us.
In his book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” Robert Putnam wrote about the decline of American social participation since the 1950’s. As his title indicates, Putnam points to bowling as an example of this decline. The number of people who bowl has increased in the past 20 years, however the number of people who participate in bowling leagues has decreased. This means people are bowling alone and as a consequence not participating in the social interaction that they would have in a league.
This makes me sad. I am a huge fan of social clubs and believe that they are good for both our mind and spirit. Four years ago, I moved to Springfield, Illinois knowing only my fiancé (now husband). I was lucky enough to meet a couple of great girls through work. One night, over happy-hour, two of my new friends began discussing the possibility of starting a book club. We were all recent college graduates who missed acting like smarty pants and discussing literary themes. A couple of weeks after that conversation I received an e-mail from one of my new gal pals announcing the creation of the book club.
Putnam explains that part of the value of the social club is the manner in which it enriches our lives. We do not merely bowl. We do not merely discuss books. We engage one another. We discuss our lives, our families, our politics, and our dreams. We grow through one another. We educate one another. No classroom or blog post could have better assisted me in planning a wedding or hosting my first Thanksgiving than my book club friends did. No self help book or television special could better instruct me on how to deal with my in-laws or get good customer service at tanning salons. We are all proud members of a digital generation and yet have grown to understand the intrinsic value of this very human, very low-tech interaction.
Four years later our book club is going strong. What started with just a handful of girls sharing a bottle of wine and a cheese platter has grown into a wonderful and warm tradition and something I look forward to every month. Some of us have gotten married or had babies. Some of us have moved or gone back to school. We have added lots of girls and lost a few. It feels like much has changed in my life since we first started the book club, but the club itself has not has changed.
We’ve established some traditions through the years. In December, we skip the book altogether and instead have a holiday gift exchange. Sometimes in the summer months we take the show on the road and go swimming or barbeque before we discuss our book. Having this social club has meant a great deal to me, and I suspect others have similar experiences with their own social groups. Sometimes an organized activity like a book club, scrapbooking circle, or bowling league provides the ideal backdrop for the type of quality social interaction that we all need. Someone recently told me that “it’s hard to make friends as an adult” and generally I find that to be true. As children we could just walk up to a stranger on the playground and decide to be friends. We didn’t need to have anything in common. We were kids. That’s what we had in common. Well, it doesn’t always work that way for adults. But clubs…clubs provide us with the starting point we sometimes need to grow lasting friendships.
The idea for this article came to me when I first walked into Harpole’s Heartland Lodge’s new…well…lodge. I was struck by how perfect a setting it would be for a book club “travel meeting.” The warmth and friendly atmosphere of the lodge is exactly the ambiance that permeates our club meetings, and it’s so close to Springfield that the girls would have no trouble getting there. A bottle of wine, a good book, a beautiful lodge with a roaring fire and good friends…Could anything sound better?