“Exactly what I was looking for.”
Retired Mom of Four Grown Daughters
The problem I'm trying to solve with The trees.
I love good conversation and I love to make people laugh.
But sometimes the people I’d normally turn to for either aren’t around. Or I know the people who are around aren’t going to be interested in what I want to talk about — the latest presidential polling in Georgia, snags in Baseball’s plan to get back on the field, or the latest episode of The Slate Political Gabfest.
And I don’t like the primary alternative — talking to random people on Reddit or Facebook or Twitter. I can’t deal with the miscreants and nutcases that inevitably infect nearly all conversations on those platforms.
What I'm doing with The trees.
I’m creating online groups and filling each group — by hand — with folks who live to laugh (or make others laugh) and have matching senses of humor.
Why it works.
Here’s what my dad taught me many years ago —
If you gather people who live to laugh (or make others laugh) and have matching senses of humor, they will have great conversations, on matters both silly and serious.
And — bonus — a lot of them will become genuine friends.
How I define 'sense of humor'.
For me, it means three things —
- Which people make you laugh and which don’t. Comedians, writers, politicians, podcasters, actors, talk show hosts, YouTubers, Tweeters, cartoonists, pundits.
- Whether an increase in your stress level makes you crave humor or avoid it.
- How important laughing (or making others laugh) is to you, compared to all the other things you could be doing at this very moment.
The backstory — my dad, and his recipe for great groups.
In 1973, he, mom, and 4-year-old me moved back to New York City…
Read the rest of the story.
…from Israel (where he’d been NBC News’ bureau chief).
To reconnect with people, dad started a lunchtime conversation group filled with folks he knew from The New York Times, NBC News, and Columbia Journalism School.
The group went so well, he started three more.
Dad’s four lunchtime groups met at New York City Chinese restaurants, every week, like clockwork, for forty years.
My first exposure to dad's groups.
My parents split up when I was 11.
After that, if a day off from my school coincided with one of dad’s group lunches, he’d invite me along.
And, boy, did I love it. I was surrounded by people who adored each other, had fantastic conversations, and laughed their heads off.
Dad reveals the recipe.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I arrived at college for freshman orientation, back in the autumn of 1986.
But a few hours after my parents dropped me off, this thought started repeating in my head —
“There are two thousand kids here. Nobody knows anybody else. Everyone is dying to make a few new friends. And they’re all petrified to talk to one another.”
The next day, I called my dad and we had a conversation that I remember going something like this —
“Dad, there are two thousand kids here who are petrified of one another. And everybody’s lonely. I was thinking maybe I could start some Sy Pearlman-style lunch groups. What’s your recipe for identifying a big bunch of people who are all going to like each other?”
Dad, instead of answering my question, followed it up with one of his own. It’s probably the most impactful question anyone’s ever asked me —
“Ted, how many people with your sense of humor do you dislike?”
I thought for a moment…
“Exactly,” he replied. “Look for folks who laugh a lot (or make others laugh a lot). Then send the ones with matching senses of humor out to lunch together. That’s the recipe.”
And, 34 years later, I still rely on it.
COVID-19 and the need for online groups.
In late 2016, right around the time of the U.S. presidential election, I started daydreaming about supplementing my lunch groups with online groups. But it took the arrival of the coronavirus for me to give that daydream a name, a website, and my full-time attention.
The very first conversation, from December, 2016.
This is a good example of how people with matching senses of humor can have such great, serious conversations.
The folks participating — Suzanne, a novelist from Atlanta; Emma, a tech CEO from Seattle; Kat, a corporate organizational development consultant from Schenectady, NY; and Claire Michelle, a children’s librarian from eastern Pennsylvania — are discussing an op-ed from the Washington Post: A new poll shows 52% of Republicans actually think Trump won the popular vote.”
How this is free.
It’s still early days. And I can manage things solo.
However, if it gets big enough to require employees and additional infrastructure, I’ll have to implement some sort of monthly membership fee. I absolutely refuse to have ads or sell user data.
Frequently asked questions.
Who are you?
So, being part of a group in The trees is like being in a Facebook Group filled with hand-picked people who have my sense of humor?
Do the groups actually live on Facebook?
What do the members of each group chat about?
Everything under the sun.
Why do you call it 'The trees'?
Tree planting has always been my favorite metaphor for this hobby my dad invented.
The gatherings are the acorns. What grows from the gatherings — friendships, collaborations, the comforts of a safe harbor — are the oaks.
Also, each group is named after a type of tree.
How many groups are there?
There are three — Redbuds, Sugarmaples, and Tupelos — and hopefully more to come.
Is your dad still alive?
No. He died in 2015. I miss him.