Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Man of Ideas

I'm generally a sociable guy. But not always. Like many sociable people, I need my own quiet time even in public. Recently, though, I've begun to realize that the problem might not be so much my need for quiet that keeps me from conversing.

I've realized vaguely for several years and more consciously for many months that the most tedious meetings for me are news only meetings. This is true both in the university and in my church where I serve on the lay leadership. I'm most stimulated and engaged by meetings in which ideas start bouncing around.

A number of months ago, I was at a church gathering in which members from different social strata were supping together. The edict came down from the organizers for everyone to sit at a table where they didn't know at least 2 people. Obediently, I did so. I struck up a thoughtful conversation with 2 college students, one of whom I knew only a little from a membership class I taught. I started getting a bit creative about the idea of volunteer service and ended up enjoying myself immensely. Not that I wouldn't have been conversational anyway in such a setting, but what made this particularly enjoyable was that ideas were starting to bounce around. By my own definition, I was engaging in i-rumination, and I was loving it.

I've been to social gatherings in which I've met new people and talked superficially. In those circumstances, I've enjoyed myself nominally. I've been to other gatherings in which I've connected well with people and gotten into some rousingly thoughtful and enjoyable conversation.

The difference is the exchange of ideas.

I've started to realize just how important to me the ability is to i-ruminate, ruminate intellectually. I've been aware of the importance in meetings. I've been aware of the importance in social gatherings. Now I think I discovered the importance to me therapeutically.

I was supervising a padawan in the library's Faculty-Staff Technology Resource Lab today. While editing a video project procedure with her, I caught myself getting compulsive about the details. The question was how much information to include. More now was time-consuming, but less now could mean more work or confusion for someone else later. I settled for more information now, but the need to resolve the issue of when to invest more time or not bothered me.

With a bit less work pressure during the summer than normal, I headed into the staff area vaguely desirous of a conversation with one of the other librarians. The boss JB was in a meeting with the collection development manager. The circulation manager was in late to cover evening hours. The serials librarian was away from his desk. Ambling into the break room, I found him starting a pot of coffee. He acknowledged he had some time and I sat down. I started tossing out the newest details of the video project (of which he already knew something being a media person in a former professional life himself).

He let me lay out the issues about this fairly trivial issue and let me connect it to the bigger issue of task management. With this project I was thinking to redesign some larger aspects of this annually recurring effort. Last year we were too hampered by the impending deadline to dare even tweak the procedure. This year we had started early enough to have the whole summer to breeze through. If we invested some time now, we could make life easier for someone else later and even have a better product. It didn't take long to recognize that the time we had available made it possible to do some experimentation with the procedure and still get the work done under the old procedure if a new one failed.

Good enough for me. I'd had the chance to process the issues by talking them out and reached a productive conclusion. And my mood had lifted considerably.

So, I've come to a greater understanding of how important it is for me to be able to talk ideas. It satisfies me professionally, socially, and now, at least I can speculate, emotionally.

If we ever meet, feel free to share with me something you've been thinking about lately. Share with me your own piece of intellectual candy. I'm sure to conclude the conversation happier and more thoughtful. And hopefully, I'll offer you a piece of i-candy in return.