Thursday, September 3, 2009

You're Welcome, But You Aren't Invited

This Labor Day Weekend, my daughters and I will be going to participate in what has become an annual event for us. This is the Labor Day Pow Wow that is held by CIHA (California Indian Hobbyists Association). It will be in the same place that it is most years, at Camp Pollock in Sacramento (just off the American River near the junctions of Interstate 80 and Interstate 5).

This is an interesting event, in that it's one of those things that happens, a number of people are aware of it, but very little promotion of it is ever done. I discovered my first year of attending that that is by design. The organizers of the event enjoy having new people come in and participate, but that's the key right there... they want to have people come in and "participate", not just hang out and see what is going on. When I came my first year, one of the organizers and long time participants said something that fascinated me, and I've thought about it ever since. He said "this is the type of event where you are welcome, but you are not invited". It took me a little while to absorb that statement, and after a few years, I think I'm understanding what he means.

Many things in life require us to be invited, or at least we feel it appropriate that we be introduced and some form of "personal contract" be made. We don't just show up at a job without filling out an application, and then being interviewed and subsequently hired. We tend to not just show up someplace and pick up a shovel and go to work on a project. For these examples, there's a social contract that says "we have to accept you as part of the community first, and then you can participate". My experience with CIHA was different. I came because I heard about it, and I asked if there was something I could do to assist, and they let me step right in and do whatever I could (which in this case consisted of helping clean up an area of grass for dancing and helping set up benches for the dancers to sit). After awhile, I was able to start talking to people, and getting to know a little bit about them and what they did and why they came each year. It was from that experience that I made some friendships, and committed to coming back and participating in whatever way I could.

How often do we hear the phrases "ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened"? So often, we wait for others to tell us it's OK to do something, or we wait until we are invited to participate. My example with CIHA was exactly the opposite. I had to make the decision to seek them out, and once I was there, I had to put myself into the fray and participate. If I waited to be asked to join them, I would have been kept outside. In this case, my just going up and offering to help gave me the in I needed. That has served as a metaphor for many of the things I do today. It may be seen as a strange re-rendering of the phrase "it is easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission", but it is somewhat similar. Many times in life, if we wait for an invitation, we'll wait forever. At times, it is not only acceptable and appropriate, but expected that you need to make the first move. Will it always work? No, and in some areas it's disrespectful to be so presumptuous, but many times in life, the most interesting experiences are not the ones that you are invited to participate in, but the ones you make a conscious effort to see out and do on your own.

This weekend, my girls and I will go up and renew that experience, and learn more about the friends that we have made over the years, and perhaps we will also meet some new people that have decided to just join the group and put in their effort. Either way, I'm looking forward to another memorable Labor Day Pow Wow weekend :).

1 comment:

Mellocat said...

Interesting thoughts here, MKL.

The thought comes to mind that there are those in our various societies who purposely take advantage of the paradigm "You're welcome, but you aren't invited" to exclude others by removing the "You're welcome" part so that outsiders just perceive the "You aren't invited," and not in the light of "you don't need to be formally invited to join in." Most people probably are not conscious of the paradigm to begin with because they are socially conditioned to not intrude unless invited into something...