Following World War I, the Times of London asked prominent pundits to submit essays answering the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” English author G.K. Chesterton responded with a single word: “Me!”
He was answering, of course, not solely for himself but for human nature.
Chesterton was persuaded that people spoil the world for themselves and for one another by being self-centered and shortsighted.
He argued that the most rewarding pleasures at any age come from pleasing others.
Formal invitations to gatherings used to request “the pleasure of your company.”
Hosts could expect their guests themselves to provide that pleasure.
Long before movies, television and video games converted us into solitary couch potatoes, people entertained one another by their conversation, companionship and simple presence.
Reading a 19th-century guest book discovered in a Connecticut home my family borrowed one summer, I was struck by the sentiments visitors recorded there, expressing gratitude to their hosts and fellow guests for pleasant sojourns and good company.
Americans of all ages still socialize, of course, but much of the interaction today revolves around business, sports, children or other agendas.
Every Saturday in fair weather, for example, our local school’s playing field plays host to hundreds of tiny soccer players and their cheering parents.
Lamentably, the games are not occasions for couples to enjoy the company of other adults.
Their kids’ competition is the only point for harried soccer moms and dads to gather in the same place at the same time.
Early in my career, when I first became a supervisor, I was advised not to socialize much with my staff, lest I be accused of granting favors to some and not to others.
In retrospect, I must admit it was sound counsel, because I had to make painful employment decisions about colleagues I really liked.
But that self-imposed barrier severely restricted my circle of friends. Soon I found myself wearing one face to work and another in my personal life.
In active retirement you will no longer have your workplace as a source of companionship.
If you have children, they will be adults leading their own lives and cultivating their own friends. So you will have to exert the effort to nurture a new circle of men and women whose company you enjoy and who can be a source of support and comfort in the autumn of your life.
Churches still afford people the opportunity to socialize, to share values and experiences and to assist one another. Lending assistance and giving pleasure are much the same thing.
But it is as easy to compartmentalize worship and fellowship as anything else in life.
Socializing on the Sabbath is not enough.
We need compatible friends to nourish us, to protect us from getting stuck in our ways, and to prevent us from growing old prematurely.
David Yount answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount31@ verizon.net.