I’m a knitter.
This is a fairly solitary occupation, in that you don’t need to be part of a team to do it, and it’s fairly doable to get good at this without classes, seminars, workbooks, DVDs, and weekly meetings.
And I am fairly good at it; I make what I create, and have developed a respectable wardrobe of sweaters, socks, lace shawls, hats, and scarves, all because I knit on a regular basis and I continuously challenge myself to learn new things.
Despite this sensible attitude, I underwent a moment of insanity when I considered joining a knitter’s association and subjecting myself to a series of steps and lessons and requirements, all with the goal of earning a piece of paper announcing to the word that, according to this group, I am a qualified knitter.
What kind of job I can get with this piece of paper, I don’t know. Theoretically, I am supposed to come out of the experience more skilled than I am now, but I think the process would drive me nuts, since involves knitting 3 x 3 inch squares — absolutely PERFECTLY — in various patterns, and sending them to distant reviewers who pass or fail me based upon that perfection. I cannot wear 3 x 3 inch squares.
Some people — perfectionists come to mind — thrive on this type of thing, but I don’t. Which made me — and especially the Norwegian Artist — wonder why I was considering the experience at all.
“You hate groups like this,” he reasoned. “Why are you even contemplating putting yourself through the process?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe because I’m fooling myself into thinking that the group will enable me to advance, even though I’m advancing just fine all on my own.”
I’m not the only one with this misconception. It’s pretty universal that, when we acquire an interest — in knitting, cooking, walking dogs, making compost, brewing Kombucha, anything — we eventually look for a group to join. And a magazine to subscribe to.
“The more skilled members will teach me,” we reason. “That’s why the group exists.”
Actually, most groups exist for the group itself — for the regular meetings, the newsletters, the dues, the advancement process from one level to the next. In years past, we have belonged to art associations, 4-H, religious organizations, educational groups, non-profit establishments — and rarely have we received more than we put in.
Generally, the less organized the group, the more we have benefited from it. A hodge-podge of people, interacting on a basis of equality because they are more interested in each other and their common interest than they are in the organization they have created, is a worthy, workable endeavor. But this isn’t what most groups look like.
While this grumpy, anti-social attitude flies against society’s injunction to “work together as a team,” the one significant, workable example of teamwork that has existed since the beginning is one that society is regularly set out to destroy: the family. It seeks to replace it with substitutes: our “family” at work, our “family” at church, our “family” at school, our “family” anyplace at all other than our home.
And although yes, it’s true that some people’s families aren’t of the quality that they should be, this is no excuse to eliminate the institution and replace it with substitutes. Better that we invite someone with no family into our own than that we push all of ourselves into artificial groups.
Do you knit? Write me, we’ll swap stories. It’s highly likely you can figure out what’s challenging you on your own, or, if it’s really bad, by finding another knitter who can walk you through it. But a weekly meeting, or monthly dues, or a yearly seminar isn’t going to push you through to learning as much as you yourself will do — because you’re smart, creative, independent and able to do so much more than you think you can.