The Mensa Event Guide, Part 2: Attending Events
This is a follow-up to last month's article about creating your own Mensa events. The flip side of hosting events is ... attending them, of course. Mensans meet and keep in touch with each other through newsletters, special interest groups, email listserves and distribution lists, and by attending events. Below are a handful of myths about attending events. If you wondered about the truth of any of them, you should reconsider.
Myth 1: As a new or newly-active member, I'm going to have to prove myself.
Reality: newcomers are welcomed with warmth and interest. New members aren't asked to prove themselves, jump through intellectual hoops, or do anything they don't want to do. The assumption is, if you've come to an event, you're there as an equal with everyone else. In my experience, Mensans don't actually discuss issues of IQ very often at all, or if they do, it is usually in reference to the education system in this country or as a self-deprecating comment about needing to be re-tested. If you haven't heard this joke before, don't worry; Mensans don't ever get re-tested, but we like to make good-natured comments about it now and then, usually about ourselves.
This is one myth I wondered about when I was relatively new. The crowd I hung out with a lot nine or ten years ago was just a small subset of the overall membership in New England. In this small group, there were many times I didn't get references to Broadway shows, history, classic literature, NPR, etc. For a while I wondered why I lacked all kinds of knowledge that a couple of them had. In time, it dawned on me that each member was unique in his or her experiences and knowledge, and some had a lot more of certain types of book-learning. For example, some were good at trivia, and others were history buffs. Nobody ever said they cared when I didn't get a reference to West Side Story (I still don't), and it never bothered me if others didn't get my references to organizational psychology, karate, or heavy metal music (I was young!) The day when I was able to let my concerns go for good was when I had the epiphany that these differences were interesting, but not problematic. I remember hanging out on the front porch during a games night, listening to my friend Marty's son talking to another attendee, in detail and at length, about some aspect of theater. Earlier I had overheard his references to music and literature during a trivia game. I was impressed because he was in high school at the time and far more sophisticated than I in these areas (he still is!) In that moment, I had thought to myself, "I will never know even a tenth of what this kid knows," and I realized it didn't matter - not to him, not to his father, not to anyone else who was there, and honestly, not to me.
The diversity of this group is one of its strengths and one of its challenges. All of us are accepted for who we are. After meeting a number of members over time, it is hard not to notice that diversity permeates everything in this group, ranging from viewpoints, preferences, interests, careers, interpersonal skills, work ethics, political tendencies, religious views, and everything else on which we could differ. The bottom line is, once you are a member, you are accepted. Period.
Myth 2: If it's a regular monthly or weekly event, I'd feel obligated to keep attending.
Mais non! If you see an event that interests you go, have fun, enjoy. Stay until the end or leave early. If the event is offered again, decide then if you want to try it again. Any sense of obligation to keep attending is likely to be a creation of your own mind. One of the things that longtime Mensa members have learned is that people come and go: we move, we travel, individuals may lose interest in an event they've attended regularly, new events catch their eye, personal schedules get hectic for a time, or other life issues may take priority.
Myth 3: No one will talk to me if I am a new or inactive member.
Bah!!!!!!! This couldn't be further from the truth, really. I personally love to meet new or formerly inactive members. And my guess is that most others in this group who attend events also feel this way. Why do I assume that? Well, every event I've been to where someone was introduced to the host and/or other attendees as a `first timer' was welcomed like a new friend. Members went out of their way to talk to new people, to include them in conversations, to show them around and to get to know them. We have all joined this group for different, often multiple, reasons. A few of my reasons are that I get to hang out with smart folks like yourselves, that obscure joke references are appreciated, multisyllable words aren't scorned, several conversations are often going on at any given time, and laughter abounds. Okay, maybe that's many reasons, but you get the idea.
Oh yes, make sure you don't assume that everyone at an event already knows each other. Many may, but not always. The attendees at any given event vary, and there are times when it isn't clear who knows whom. Over 300 members belong to the New Hampshire chapter, and there are a number in Maine (which is now affiliated with New Hampshire) and in Massachusetts who come to events. Unless you tell the other folks you are new, they might never know; their assumption might be that you are just another member they had never met before. And, if you haven't attended many or any events, take the initiative and introduce yourself to a couple other attendees. If you are shy, then contact the host in advance and ask her or him to keep an eye out for you and introduce you to a couple of the other attendees. It's a service most of us provide more than willingly because we remember what it's like to feel new.
Myth 4: If I don't really click with the people I meet at my first event, then maybe Mensa isn't for me.
False. Please reread myths 1 and 3 and then come back. OK, now let's rethink this. There are a number of events and regional gatherings offered by this group and by the other local groups. Each event attracts different people for as many reasons. And sometimes the same event held a second or third time has a whole different crowd that shows up. You know the saying that you can't step twice into the same river? There's so much diversity in this group that you can't assume that the first 3, 7, or 10 people you meet are representative of everyone.
One of the great joys of belonging to this group is that it is possible to develop several sets of acquaintances/friends who may have little in common with each other beyond membership in this group. The key is not to stop with the first few you meet, but rather to seek them out, or let them find you. But, it can only happen if there are opportunities to interact.
Myth 5: I shouldn't contact the hostess or host prior to the event.
Incorrect. Hosts provide contact information to you in their calendar listing for a reason. If the event is a new one or it is one you have never attended and you find that you have questions or concerns, the best thing to do is contact the host. Hosts field calls and emails when their driving directions to an event are unclear, if it's unclear whether food is provided or if attendees should bring food/beverages for themselves or to share, if it is unclear whether the event is for adults only, if handicap access is needed by an attendee, or if an attendee is concerned about problematic or life-threatening allergies (e.g., nuts, cats, cigarettes). If you have similar concerns, or any concerns, contact the host before the event or ask when you arrive there.
Of course, it never hurts to remember that the person hosting an event doesn't work for Mensa. Each is a member, just as you are, and each volunteered to put an event together so please be considerate. If you phone, do so during what most people would consider reasonable hours: after 8:00 a.m. and before 8:00 p.m. (but check the event listing for specific instructions). Unless you are trying to call immediately before the event, give them a chance to get back to you. They may be able to return your call within scant hours of receiving it, but not always.
Well, now that these myths have been dispelled, are there any other assumptions, experiences, ideas, or suggestions you have about hosting or attending events? Please feel free to mail or email me with them, either to improve this article before it becomes a part of the new member handbook or to help me think about these issues from a new or different perspective (I said I liked diversity, didn't I?) I can be reached at email@example.com, in care of the P.O. Box listed on the back of this newsletter, or if you can come to the monthly dinner on the Seacoast, we can chat about it face-to-face.
See you around!
[Special thanks to Donna Sommer whose comments and ideas helped improve this
article in immeasurable ways.]
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