People Who Need People

That title is a reference to the well-known song sung by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.” The line from that song that has always resonated with me is this: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I’m a bit of a loner and an introvert, tending to spend most of my time alone or with just a couple other people. But even though I know there’s nothing inherently wrong with being this way, I still feel a bit of shame at my inability to be the outgoing, always-on-the-run, busy-busy-busy personality that is more socially acceptable in this country.

Crowded section of the Magee Marsh boardwalk

Crowded section of the Magee Marsh boardwalk

As an HSP, I have a strong aversion to crowds and noise. Some people are stimulated in a positive way by being around lots of other people, but I have the exact opposite experience. After spending time at a large social function, I usually feel very tired and emotionally drained. We HSPs take in so much more information in any given situation than most people that our brains just get overloaded with stimuli. Because of this, I’ve learned to orchestrate my life so that I have lots of quiet time for recuperation and reflection on my experiences. Knowing all of this, you might wonder why I would voluntarily go to a birding festival where the most popular birding spot is a narrow boardwalk that gets so crowded you sometimes have to push your way between people. (The photo to the left is only a medium-sized crowd — it gets much worse in spots where a really good bird is spotted!)

Birders spread out on the beach, scanning the shrub line for warblers. I much prefer this type of birding experience!

Birders spread out on the beach, scanning the shrub line for warblers. I much prefer this type of birding experience!

It’s funny though, that because of the beauty and general awesomeness of the birds, I don’t really get as tense as I would somewhere else with the same crowds. Like, for example, if the crowds were that thick at a street art festival, I’d only be able to spend short amounts of time there. But the birds make all the difference. Even though I’m surrounded by throngs of people, my mind is mostly focused on the little flying creatures in the trees.  If you saw me on the Magee boardwalk, you wouldn’t necessarily know that I was any different from anyone else. You’d probably even see me helping other people to see and identify birds; I really do love interacting with people when I can teach or show them something interesting.

But this year at the Biggest Week I had a moment where I was struck by something ironic: I’ve always thought birding was a healthy and fun way to avoid people, but I found that my love of birds has begun to bring me closer to people. Wow, that realization blew my mind! From the moment I was accepted as one of the Official Bloggers for the Biggest Week, I felt a kinship with a special group of (mostly) strangers from all across the country. And I had so many amazingly positive experiences with people during the Biggest Week that my self-esteem got a much-needed boost. I’d like to tell you about a few of the people that made this such a wonderful time for me:

New Mexican dinner on Lake Erie at sunset....thanks, Linda!

New Mexican dinner on the Lake Erie shore at sunset….thanks, Linda! (photo credit Kim Kaufman)

One of my fellow blog team members invited us all to a dinner party at her cottage on Lake Erie. She cooked a fabulous New Mexican meal for us and was a kind and welcoming hostess, allowing many of us to meet for the first time in a beautiful and relaxed setting. I had considered not attending her party because I was so intimidated by not knowing anyone else who would be there. Thanks to encouragement from Eric, and the enticement of good home cooking during a week of restaurant meals, I decided to go. And I’m so glad I did. There turned out to be two people there that I already knew, so that helped a lot.

Kim and Kenn Kaufman, two of the best people you'll ever meet

Kim and Kenn Kaufman, two of the best people you’ll ever meet

And then there were the always gracious Kim and Kenn Kaufman. Kim is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and is the energizing force behind the festival. Her heart and soul go into bird conservation year-round. And her husband Kenn is the internationally-known birding expert and author/publisher of the Kaufman Field Guide series. You might expect people of their stature to be reluctant to mingle with the likes of me, but you’d be wrong. These two spread themselves very thin during the Biggest Week, but they still had time to share a joke or a kind moment with anyone who talked to them. Eric and I were exceedingly grateful to be able to bird with them for three hours one morning on a special outing at Magee Marsh.

The always-smiling Don and Lillian Stokes

The always-smiling Don and Lillian Stokes

And another famous birding couple was on that walk too: Don and Lillian Stokes. This was the first time I’d ever met them, and I was pleasantly surprised at their openness and kindness as well. As early arrivals to the outing, we had a couple minutes to talk privately with them — and they were gracious enough to allow us to take a photo for my blog. Aren’t those smiles great? I still can’t get over how nice they were to everyone…they also told good jokes and stories. (Birders have so many great stories!)

My festival name badge

My festival name badge

And then there was the moment when a complete stranger noticed my name badge and told me she’d read my blog and liked it. Wow, talk about having your mind blown….that was great. One of the most rewarding things someone can say to me is that they read my blog and enjoy it.

There was another moment where my blog started a conversation too. I was on the boardwalk in a very crowded section, trying to catch a glimpse of some warbler (I think it was a Golden-winged…). I exchanged pleasantries with a very well-known birder who began asking me about my HSP trait, telling me she’d read my blog and was curious about it. We had a quiet conversation right in the middle of a huge crowd of people, with people jostling for better vantage points to see the bird. I was so touched by this and made sure to thank her for talking to me about it.

It may sound egotistical, but I believe it’s a core human truth: We all like to know that we’re important, that we make a difference.  This is something I’ve struggled with in recent years because I don’t usually get this kind of feedback in my regular life. I question whether I’m doing anything useful with my life.  These moments all meant SO much to me. I felt the kind of connection with other people that I’ve been missing (without knowing that I was missing it). I thought I was ok with my quiet, relatively isolated existence. It’s not that I’m not happy — I am. But my interactions with other bird lovers in the past month have added another dimension to my life, making it richer and more meaningful.

I’m still processing what this all means to me. For example, why have I never felt this type of connection to any other group of people before? What is it about bird people that makes me feel so good? I think it may be our shared concerns for the natural world, the tie that binds all human and animal life together.  Part of me doesn’t want to overanalyze the whole experience, but I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

After all these years, is it possible I really could be one of the “People Who Need People”?

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10 Responses to People Who Need People

  1. Barb says:

    I love birding too and while you were standing in a crowd on the Ohio side of Lake Erie, I was standing on the Ontario side in Pt. Pelee. I have gone there for years. I think that in nature activities like birding and gardening, the crowds we find are full of other introverts. Birders may be pointing out a warbler, but for the most part they are standing quietly and enjoying the moment. It is a group that understands that value of silence. When occasionally I run across the group with the loud know it all in the middle, I move on…you can just see all the introverts spreading out away from them as quickly as possible.

    • Kim says:

      I bet the birding was good at Pt Pelee! I need to get over there one day….

      And I think you’re right about there being lots of introverts among birders. I’m getting feedback from lots of them here and on Facebook, so I know they’re out there!

  2. Littlesundog says:

    I avoid crowds if I possibly can. I can’t think of too many times I liked being in a crowd… until this past weekend when I went with my sister Jule’s family to watch my nephew compete in motocross racing. You would think being an HSP, introverted, and someone who hates loud noises would be absolutely miserable at such an event. Part iof my happiness about it was watching my nephew, Sid. Part of it was taking photographs and experimenting with moving dirt bikes, jumps, and lots of color! I really had to be on my game with the camera! I was elated!! I watched my sister visit with fellow dirt bike people… it was like walking into a whole different world. I had a blast. So, I guess sometimes we DO connect with people in crowds. You just never know!!

    I am glad you had such a fabulous time, Kim! You look so happy!

    • Kim says:

      Lori, y our experience this weekend sounds like mine at the bird festival. When we open ourselves up to new and challenging situations, we’re sometimes pleasantly surprised, aren’t we? I think having a “project” to keep you focused is a good idea, so you don’t dwell on the things that irritate you

  3. I am so happy to have met both of you! It was delightful having you to dinner at my cottage, and I loved the time that I was able to spend with both of you. You need to come to New Mexico and do some birding–and some eating–here. Can’t wait to see both of you next year. xoxox

    • Kim says:

      Linda, I’d love to bird in New Mexico with you, but it’s definitely not going to happen this year. On the other hand, we’ve just booked our trip to Kaua’i for September and I’d love to get some tips from you on where to bird there….I think you said you’d been there many times, right?

  4. Crowds overwhelm me quite a bit as well. I may not have it as bad, but I in the past, I pretty much would put a wall between myself and a group of people. I typically stay quiet and observe from a distance. You may not have noticed this just by meeting me! You know why? Something changed me at the Biggest Week – I wanted to be around people, I wanted to meet everyone that I could and introduce myself to faces I’ve only seen on Facebook and around the web. I felt a connection with this group of people that I cannot even explain. In some ways, I know exactly how you feel. I wonder what it really is….

    • Kim says:

      That’s so interesting to me, Melissa, that we both had the same reaction to this group. I’ve never felt this way about a group of people before, but I like it very much! I think we’re experiencing a profound sort of metamorphosis.

      • I cannot do public speaking either and I presented in front of my local birding club last night. It’s something about being around other birders. I never had a passion like this, and to share it with others makes a difference! It truly has changed my life.

      • Kim says:

        How awesome!

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