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MAUGHAN: Hold on, buddy. Hold on.

*   *   *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: what makes a good gathering?

DUCKWORTH: I don’t want to have dinner with you for a long time. My butt hurts.

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MAUGHAN: Angela, I was recently reading an amazing book called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. 

DUCKWORTH: Priya Parker — it sounds like the girlfriend of Spider-Man. Oh, no, no, that’s Peter Parker. Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Anyway,

DUCKWORTH: I have heard of that book. A lot of people are reading that book.

MAUGHAN: Well, I’ll tell you where I got it. So, I was with one of my dear friends who I used to work with, and he and I wanted to get together, and instead of doing lunch or something like that, he said, “Hey, I go on a hike every Monday after work, and I invite one person to join me. Is there a Monday that you would be willing to join me for a hike?” And so, we went on this hike, and we had an amazing conversation. We caught up. We hadn’t seen each other in maybe a year or so. And when we got down off the mountain and I said what a delightful experience it was and how most people want to gather for lunch or din— and it’s so hard, and it never happens, and this was so different, and he pulls out a, you know, wrinkled old copy of Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, and he said, “I’ve given more copies of this book away than any other book and here’s my copy. You need read it.” And he said, “I used to get together with groups, but after I read this, I realized how I wanted to gather to make it more meaningful for me. And that’s when I started doing this Monday night hike with one friend.” I read it, and I thought it was phenomenal. And it got me thinking: What makes a good gathering? What makes a sustainable group? Because so many groups start with good purpose and energy and completely fizzle out within a few weeks if not —. 

DUCKWORTH: If not a few minutes. 

MAUGHAN: They gather a few times, but don’t keep going.

DUCKWORTH: Is it gathering of any kind? Like, two people on a hike, 20 people at Thanksgiving, 10,000 people at a ginormous rock concert? Like, is it asking the question of any kind of human gathering where there is more than one person?

MAUGHAN: Yes, and that’s what I think is so powerful about the book is that it’s largely principle-based. And when it’s a principle-based book, you can apply those principles to a gathering of two people, to a gathering of 10, or to a gathering of 10,000.

DUCKWORTH: So, give me some of the principles and then, of course, I have lots of thoughts on the psychology of groups. I mean, some people would argue in my field that almost all of psychology is about the psychology of groups because nobody’s all that interested in how you act, think, or feel on a desert island. So, I think I’ll have a lot to say, but I’m greedy now for — like, give me one of the principles. 

MAUGHAN: Okay. I want to give you the principles through a bit of a story, if I may. So, as you know, because you have been a guest in it many times, I’ve had this book club going for the last seven or so years, and the people in it have become some of my best friends, but it’s crazy how close we came to not setting it up right. And when I was reading Parker’s book, I thought, “Wow, we maybe inadvertently followed a lot of the principles that allowed us to sustain.”

DUCKWORTH: You were lucky that you happened to adhere to Priya Parker’s principles without knowing it.

MAUGHAN: Absolutely. So, here are a few things. So, we were in my, you know, the study or library in my home, and my friend Tyson said, “Hey, have you ever been part of a book club?” I said, “No.” He said, “Do you want to be part of one?” I said, “Yeah, that would be really interesting.” So, we sat down and made a list. We wanted gender parity, for sure. So, we had three men, three women. Not everybody knew each other, we sent out texts inviting everyone to come, and everyone showed up at my house for this very first book-club-slash-dinner. Thankfully everybody meshed. At the end of the first book club, Tyson and I both said we should invite a bunch more people so that we make sure we have at least five or six every book club. Not everyone’s going to be able to come every time. And Anna Lim and Tanner Potter both said, “Absolutely not.”

DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, I’m waiting for what happened next, because if I were there, I would say, “No.” You do not want to have a group where it’s like, “This is West Point. You can show up on Monday at 5 in the morning when we’re drilling. Or maybe you don’t show up, so maybe we’ll recruit 25 percent extra people, and that way if 25 percent of people don’t show up for our 5 a.m. march, you know, we’ll still have enough people” — that’s not how a very, very strong group goes.

MAUGHAN: I think Tyson and I were just thinking, “Wow, everybody’s super busy. We need to make sure there’s at least a core.” We were wrong, as you pointed out and as Tanner and Anna pointed out very quickly. They just said, “That’s not how it works. We’ve been a part of other book clubs. It will fall apart immediately. People will stop reading the book. It will be a social club. People won’t feel the pressure to come. We’re not doing that.” And so, we kept it to just the six of us. The next book club, we’re at my house again, sitting around the kitchen table, and Tyson and I, maybe being slow learners, once again suggested, “Who else should we invite? Because we need to make it bigger.” And thankfully, Anna and Tanner very strongly said, “No, we’re not doing that.” Now, that goes to one of the principles that Priya Parker talks about, which I think is pretty uncomfortable for a lot of people. And that’s this idea of exclusivity — that for a group to work, and for a gathering to work, you have to decide who is it for. But by deciding who is it for, you’re also deciding who is it not for. And we’ve had so many wonderful people ask if they could join over the years, and the answer has been, “You should start a book club as well, but this group is closed.” But if we opened it up, the group would naturally fall apart.

DUCKWORTH: I completely agree. There’s this really old paper from 1986, and it’s called “Sense of Community.” It’s an academic paper published by a clinical psychologist named David McMillan and then another psychologist who worked in, kind of, like, community psychology named David Chavis. And they tried to grapple with this kind of unwieldy question: “What makes a group, a group?” And especially what makes a gathering, or a group of people feel special, cohesive, “this is meaningful”? You know, obviously those would be the groups that stick around as opposed to those book clubs or other kinds of gatherings that kind of dissipate like the morning dew. And the first qualification for sense of community is membership. And they define membership as, quote, “A feeling that one has invested part of oneself… and therefore has a right to belong.” And the very next thing they say is that “membership has boundaries. This means that there are people who belong and people who do not. The boundaries provide members with the emotional safety necessary for needs and feelings to be exposed and for intimacy to develop.” So, I know this is, in a way — I don’t want to say paradoxical, because every time I use the word paradox, I’m slightly wrong, but I’ll just say this: there’s something about the warmth and the inclusivity of a group that makes you feel like exclusivity is not the vibe. But it’s the first thing you need to do to establish the group at all.

MAUGHAN: Well, and that’s what I think is so uncomfortable. I try to live by the maxim, “The more the merrier.” You want people to always feel invited and included. And so, when it came to forming a cohesive group that has this feeling of membership — and you used the word “intimacy.” I mean, there’s something really powerful about the fact that we have gathered once a month for seven years to talk about a book. And you can’t just skate into that level of intimacy that grows deeply over time.

DUCKWORTH: I’m sure people get sick or occasionally, like, have conflicts, right? But I am assuming that attendance has been, what, close to 100 percent over this seven-year period? 

MAUGHAN: Yeah. And look, during the pandemic, we obviously had to be flexible. One person moved to New York at one point, two people moved to California at one point, most of us are back in Utah again. But we brought Zoom in, or we figured things out, or flew out to Philadelphia to meet with you one time.

DUCKWORTH: I do remember that. I felt very honored that I got to be the remote host or something. Did you read Grit for that?

MAUGHAN: We did read Grit for that. Of course! If we’re coming to visit you.

DUCKWORTH: Do you remember some of the books that you have read over these last seven years with your book club? Like, what was the first one? I don’t know. That’s a long time ago.

MAUGHAN: The first book we read was Tribe by Sebastian Junger. And I actually thought it was an incredible first book, because it, it basically talks about so many of these principles of why we are a tribe, and how people gather and become, sort of, a group. But very different than the Priya Parker thing.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, how appropriate. Very meta.

MAUGHAN: The second book we ever read is, I think, maybe the most perfect book ever written. It’s called Beartown by Fredrik Backman, who is maybe my favorite fiction author.

DUCKWORTH: Wait. What has Fredrik Backman written? 

MAUGHAN: He wrote, A Man Called Ove.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, God, yes! I love Fredrik Backman. Oh my God! I loved A Man Called Ove. I don’t even care about finishing the rest of the principles for Priya Parker. Now all I want to talk about is Fredrik — Like, I kind of feel like if I were going to start a book club, I think the first book we would read is A Man Called Ove.

MAUGHAN: So, I’ve read that three times at least, maybe four. 


MAUGHAN: Yeah, I love it. I’ve read Beartown I think three times. I’ve read Anxious People three times. I’ve read A Man — I always say, A Man Called “Oo-va” because that is the Swedish pronunciation.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, did not know that.

MAUGHAN: But I realize in the U.S., most people refer to it as A Man Called “Oh-v.” And there are two movies based on that book, one a Swedish version and one an American version. The American version they changed it to A Man Called Otto, because I think they were, like, “We can’t keep dealing with ‘oh-v’ or ‘oo-va.’”

DUCKWORTH: It’s too complicated?

MAUGHAN: But what was beautiful about how we started book club: one, we had some common rules, which is, “Read the book and show up.” And two, we very quickly established a common language, if you will, by virtue of the intimacy. And one of the reasons it was so powerful — Beartown, as an early book in the book club, hits on almost every major societal issue of our time. It’s about a hockey club in Sweden where it’s everything in this small town and goes into issues of parenting, immigration, homosexuality, sexual assault, on, and on, and on, and in the way that only Fredrik Backman can, paints this amazing picture and helps you understand life in a really different way. I will say in the seven years of all these books, no book has come up more frequently in subsequent discussions, whether we’re reading science fiction, or poetry, or about race relations, or —.

DUCKWORTH: A really boring nonfiction book about passion and perseverance?

MAUGHAN: Or an amazing book called Grit — somehow, not that it comes up every time, I’m not overstating it, but it comes up more frequently than any other book. And I think it’s been really powerful to establish sort of common language. And that’s the exclusivity that I think Parker’s talking about. That’s the reason that this intimacy can develop.

DUCKWORTH: It’s like, you have a lexicon. Like, you all talked about it, so you can refer back to that conversation or elements of that novel, I guess, right? That you all know that you all know what you’re talking about.

MAUGHAN: Exactly, so it’s that level of shared experience, and then add to that every other book and it becomes this massive list of ingredients. But one of the most uncomfortable situations that Priya Parker brings up in her book: there’s a group of friends that used to get together, like, once a year for a weekend, and one year, one member of the group, who was in the military, only had this same weekend that he could get together with his girlfriend. And so, he said, “Can I bring her?” Which I would, as a compassionate — I’m going to use the word “normal” human, be like, “Oh, that makes sense. You’re only on leave this one weekend. You only get to see her this weekend. That’s the only time it works. She’s your significant other. Let’s just let her come and be there.” Well, the group got together, and they decided ultimately, no, she can’t come.

DUCKWORTH: Interesting because of principle No. 1, exclusivity?

MAUGHAN: Yes, but — and here’s why, though. This is what I thought was super interesting. One member of the group — and Parker doesn’t tell you this up front, so you’re just thinking, “Man, these guys are jerks! This is terrible. Work with your friends a little here.” 

DUCKWORTH: “Be a little flexible, man!” 

MAUGHAN: Yeah. Thank you. You sound so hip. But then, she goes on to say that one member of the group was gay, but not openly gay, and that this weekend was the only time that all of these members of the group felt that they could be fully and truly themselves, and by introducing an outsider, the kind of purpose of the group — and this is one of the other principles she has — the “purpose” of the group would be forfeited because they couldn’t be their full and true selves. Now, some may still not like that, but I think that’s part of her point of, like, you have to have what she calls a “disputable purpose” that people can argue with. Why are we gathering together? What’s the purpose of it? And then, holding fast to that principle that allows you to then make these decisions as to who can or can’t come, even when they’re maybe extenuating circumstances. And when you and I might say, “Hey, be a little flexible, dude.”

DUCKWORTH: I think this, again, goes back to this paper that I mentioned — this 1986 paper where these psychologists say, “We’re just going to try to, in one essay, like, write down, like, what makes a group a group.” We already talked about emotional safety and boundaries, but one part of this article, which I found really interesting, they say that, you know, really this need for emotional safety — to be able to be vulnerable in this intimate society that you have created — like, it’s a very primitive human urge. And it really goes back to survival. And this article makes the example of gangs. Gangs are a group that provide physical protection, and most of us don’t need a gang to provide physical protection, but maybe all of us need a group to provide emotional protection to this, you know, soft inner part of ourselves that we don’t want to — and it may be an unhealthy thing to — expose ourselves in that way to everyone. So, I really like that story, and I’m guessing that the moral of the story isn’t some hard and fast, like, “Well, therefore, you should always let the girlfriend in.” Or “You should never let the girlfriend in,” but more this point that you were bringing up, which is that you have established norms or rules. You also have an agreement to exclusivity. You also have this — I love that expression, “disputable purpose,” right? That, like, there was some, like, democratic dialogue, and then you, you know, more or less as a group decided what to do. But the process was the thing that you got right.

MAUGHAN: Exactly. So, Angela and I would love to hear your thoughts on what makes for a good gathering or a sustainable group. Record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone, and email it to, and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. And if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is tell a friend about it. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: How do you politely escape an awkward conversation at a party?

DUCKWORTH Well, let’s go into the other room and, like, have some cheese, or whatever,

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Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about gatherings.

MAUGHAN: On this topic of rules that we’re talking about right now — Priya Parker gave a TED Talk in 2019, and one of the things she talked about were pop-up rules.

DUCKWORTH: Mmm, what are those?

MAUGHAN: We’ve been talking about, kind of, sustainable groups over time. But she also talks about, even if you’re just having a dinner party, or getting together for a baby shower, or something like that, she said, it’s really helpful to establish some “pop-up rules,” because in our society today, a lot of people are coming together across generations, across cultures, across many different experiences. And the, the norms of the group that you’re part of, may not be as obvious and clear. And so, she said one of the things that can be really helpful is just setting pop-up rules so when people show up, they kind of know exactly what’s going to be happening or what’s expected of them at this dinner party, or at this event, or something like that.

DUCKWORTH: So, does she suggest having a handout?

MAUGHAN: She suggests a bunch of different things. And she uses the term “generous authority” often for the host — this idea of, of don’t be so uptight that nothing can change, but you need to have some authority to establish what’s happening and make sure that everything is done in an equal way. And so often, putting pop-up rules on the invitation are super helpful. Like, are we putting our phones away when you come in and we have an expectation that you won’t have your phone?

DUCKWORTH: Ooh, I love that pop-up rule. You know, one pop-up rule — or one, one rule — I just, if I got to be a “generous authority,” we always say, let’s get together for dinner at 7 p.m. We say the start time. But we never say the end time. It seems a little bit, I don’t know, uncouth or maybe impolite, but I would love for someone to say, “We’re having dinner from 7 to 8:30.” And by the way, if you ever have dinner with me, I don’t want to have dinner with you for a long time. My butt hurts. I just don’t like dinner parties that stretch on ad infinitum. And I think it’s that uncertainty. So, I love this idea of making the implicit explicit. And I have these really good friends, Barb and Phil, and they are like me. They are into the express-lane social interaction. And they’re the only friends I can say, “Hey, let’s have dinner on Thursday night at 7 to 8.” You know? And they know that when it’s 8 that I want to get up. And there’s, you know, there’s social science research on this. I’m thinking of research that Dan Gilbert and others have done on conversations and how, very often, there is this game that we play with the other person, which is how are we going to end this conversation? Do you want to end it? I’m kind of feeling like I want to end it now. Maybe you don’t want to end it. And why do we do all that, like, kabuki theater when we can just say at the moment of the invitation before it gets awkward, right? Because I think one of the reasons why we’re hesitant to end a dinner party, to turn off the lights, to show people the door, is that it feels to us like a signal that, actually, this was kind of “Meh,” and now I want to go to bed, and you don’t want to signal that. You just want to say, like, “I have a cranky piriformis muscle, and I need to not be sitting at this dinner party anymore,” which is why I have a pain in the butt. But anyway —.

MAUGHAN: Which is the literal and scientific way of saying it. 

DUCKWORTH: I literally have pain in my butt. It’s actually — I’m seeing, like, multiple physical therapists. But, anyway, I had this distaste for interminable dinner parties.

MAUGHAN: Yes. And to your point Parker talks in the book about this interesting concept that some people in a group dinner may want to leave earlier, and some may want to stay later. And so, long as the host is okay with either, one of the things that she recommends is, at some point, let’s say after an hour, you’ve eaten the dinner, then it’s, “Okay, now we’re going to leave the kitchen, and we’ll move into the living room.” And that gives a very natural break; those who want to stay can stay, but those who are ready to leave have the opportunity because everyone’s standing up, and they don’t feel rude exiting.

DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh, this is inspired. I don’t know if she says this, but it also allows people to do a little musical chairs. Because do you ever feel that way where, like, you got trapped? You kind of are, like, looking over at the other end of the table, and you’re like, “Oh, it would be so nice to talk to that person.” But you’re stuck there, appetizer through dessert. So, like, this kind of like, “Well, let’s go into the other room and have some cheese,” or whatever, you can sit down with other people.

MAUGHAN: Yes, we’ve all been there. I will say that as a general rule in my home, I only do square or round tables in order for everyone to be involved in the conversation.

DUCKWORTH: Ah, interesting. So, square or round table and small enough also, right? That anybody could be in conversation with anybody else. Okay, I don’t know who said this — for all I know, Priya Parker said this — but I remember it really well and I am not the first to say it. It was advice on dinner parties. And it was like, “No more than six, no fewer than five.” Like, if you’re going to have a dinner party, have between five and six people.

MAUGHAN: See, that’s one I’m not going to abide by. I think that’s way too small.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, but how do you have a round table that’s — how many people sit at your round table? Is it like the Knights of the Round Table with King Arthur? Like, how big is this thing?

MAUGHAN: The table that I have is eight, square, intimate.

DUCKWORTH: So, there’s, like, two people on each side of the square? Okay. Okay, that’s not impossible.

MAUGHAN: My parents have a beautiful round table that can seat up to 12. But it’s still close enough that it’s one conversation at the table. I think anything beyond 12 is too much. 10 is probably better.

DUCKWORTH: That’s a really big table, Mike. Like, a table that seats 12 in the round?


DUCKWORTH: Well don’t be surprised if Lancelot shows up.

MAUGHAN: And what an honor for us to have Lancelot at the table.

DUCKWORTH: Yes, that would be really fun! You could have a really interesting conversation. Well, I think the general idea, though, of the geometry of our gatherings — like our physical relationship to other people — is important, right? Like, is it going to be a round table or is it going to be a long table? And it seems like a trivial decision, but I think so much depends on how you have seated people, the lighting —. But all of that choreography — I sometimes feel like, you know, as a behavioral scientist, what people do in this world that I live in of, like, nudges and psychological interventions — it’s a lot like being a set designer on a movie set. You are the “generous authority.” And a lot of behavior change is these physical changes. So, I, I love this art of gathering, but I also just love the tactical application of this through things like, “okay, move into another room,” et cetera. 

MAUGHAN: Honestly, so much of what she’s trying to say, I think, is just: prepare. We did the Aron and Aron 36 questions that lead to understanding many moons ago.

DUCKWORTH: The “36 questions to make you fall in love.” I mean, that’s The New York Times —.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, I know, but I rebranded it, because I just think New York Times made it clickable. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, exactly, that was not what Aron and Aron wanted to do. But anyway, yes, the questions that move you toward intimacy and vulnerability.

MAUGHAN: One of those questions is something like, “Before you make a phone call, do you practice what you’re going to say?” And I love that question because as I’ve thought about that, I don’t think it means, like, overthink or be crazy, but do you prepare? Most of the time, I’ve had the experience — people run into a meeting having not really thought about the meeting. Or they come to a dinner party not having thought about the dinner party. Or we go into a negotiation, and all of the studies I did on negotiation and all the negotiations I’ve actually done — it really is just about preparation. Thinking through, “What does the other party want? What do we want? How can we come to a mutually beneficial thing?”

DUCKWORTH: It’s preparation and empathy, right? Because it’s both. But some people do neither.

MAUGHAN: For sure. And I will readily admit that way too often in my life, I have tried to get by on the fact that I think well on my feet. I can speak rather fluidly. And I didn’t prepare enough for certain things. What Parker is telling us is, “Be deliberate. Be intentional. Think through it.” I’ll give you an example of, of a dear friend of mine. Diljeet Taylor throws this big Diwali party every year. And it starts with the invitation. If I got a text from Diljeet saying, “Hey, here’s the party, show up at this time,” it feels more casual. She mails out an invitation, like a wedding invitation, and says that she and her husband were inviting you to this Diwali party. It will be at this time and this place. Traditional attire is not requested, but recommended. Please R.S.V.P. by this time. And then I realize, when I get an invitation like that in the mail, versus just a text, then it feels much more substantive. I realize that my R.S.V.P. means something, meaning it’s not just like, “Oh, I’ll show up if I can.” It set the tone very differently because of how you extend the invitation. Now, I will just say this. I want to argue against myself and against this briefly. 

DUCKWORTH: And I don’t know who’s side to take.

MAUGHAN: Take my side, which is both. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, right.

MAUGHAN: I actually agree with all of this. Obviously, I am passionate about Parker’s book. I think it’s really valuable, and I’ve loved everything. At the same time, at some point, it also can’t inhibit your ability to gather at all. Because I, I do think that at some point we get so caught up in the, “Oh, did I do the invitation right? Did I set group norms? Is there a disputable purpose? Blah, blah, blah, blah. Did I get an end time to the dinner?” And sometimes it’s just like, “Dude, we’re all just trying to survive.” I just want to see some friends once in a while, and if we text and everybody’s free because they have babysitters or not and we can just get together, it’s enough to be in the same room. So, I guess what I would also just say to myself is, “Yeah, these are goals, and they’re really, really good goals. And they help with gatherings.” And I understand where it’s coming from. I also am cautioning myself: “Don’t get so caught up in it that you don’t gather at all because you’re, you’re worried about not getting it all right.”

DUCKWORTH: Okay. I have not yet read The Art of Gathering, but if I take the “art” in the title seriously, you know, maybe your friend, and maybe Priya Parker herself, the oracle — maybe they are like the Leonardo da Vincis. So, they have taken this art of gathering to its highest apogee. And then they write a book, or at least Priya Parker writes a book, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh! Thank you. Because I can now start on this journey and get better, faster than I would if I just made my own mistakes.” But maybe you start out with finger painting. You’re like, “You know, get your hands into some paint, try not to get it on the carpet, but you have to start somewhere.” So, you know, if “the art of gathering” really is an art, some of us are going to be really far down the path, and they’re amazing. But I agree with you, not getting together — which I think is the number one problem in our society right now. I know that sounds a little bold, but I really think not getting together with each other in person and talking may be the underlying root of so many problems that I’m seeing in very different dimensions. And so, yeah, there’s the art of gathering, but it starts with gathering, so you’re right. I’m going to agree with the Mike who says, “We also don’t want to get too caught up in this and not gather.” But I’m also going to say the other Mike is right, too. You’re both right.

MAUGHAN: This is such a relief.

DUCKWORTH: This is maybe the one time where you’ve been right twice.

MAUGHAN: While arguing against myself. That’s pretty spectacular. 

DUCKWORTH: New definition of “win-win.”

MAUGHAN: Look, I think that it’s so important that we gather and I do think that there is a hunger. You know, CNN had an article by a reporter, Nathaniel Meyersohn, called, “Gen Z and Millennials Are Putting Their Own Spin on Book Clubs.” But it talked about how book club event listings grew 24 percent in the U.S. in 2023.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, what do you mean by “listings”? What is a listing?

MAUGHAN: On Eventbrite or something. It’s a community thing where lots of people can come. It’s not just an exclusive, “My friends are getting together.” And I think because a lot of other gatherings are maybe falling apart and other ways of getting together, people are looking for exactly what you’re talking about, which is this connectivity. And so, he lists some really interesting kind of book clubs. There are book clubs that are basically dating events disguised as book clubs. It’s like, “Hey, everybody, read this book. But this is really a way to come potentially meet a partner.” They have book clubs held at breweries. There are group runs. So, it’s exercise plus book club. And I — I’m with you. I think so many of our societal problems can be solved by getting together more. You know, there’s that old axiom, “It’s hard to hate up close.” And the more we meet, and mingle, and find connection with people who are different than we are, the more we’ll find that we’re actually not that different in the end.

DUCKWORTH: I’ll tell you something Jason said to me just the other day. Maybe it was two days ago. And I don’t know where this came from. It was kind of one of those, like, out of the blue remarks. He said, “You know, if I were single again,” — I kind of wanted to know where he was going there. I was like, “Yes?”

MAUGHAN: You’re like, “Hold on, buddy. Hold on.” 

DUCKWORTH: It’s like, “And? You were saying?” He was like, “If I were single again, I think I would want to meet people who listen to No Stupid Questions.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Your listeners” — because sometimes I see people on the street and then they tell me they listen to our conversations, and then we often get into a conversation of our own. He was like, “They’re smart. They’re curious. They’re open-minded. They’re generally empathic people. That’s why they like to listen about human behavior, and psychology, and emotion. I don’t know, I just think it would not be the worst dating pool to be in.” So, I love the very idea of gathering. We are in a deficit of in-person gathering. I love the idea of raising it to a fine art. And honestly, if one of the principles of gatherings is exclusivity, I can’t think of a better place to begin than NSQ listeners themselves.

MAUGHAN: I could not agree more. I was at our recent Qualtrics conference and had the opportunity to meet a whole bunch of amazing NSQ listeners. And I was really grateful to be able to gather with them. And my main thought was we’ve got to figure out a time in the future where we can gather our listeners all in one place. And so, maybe that’s our art of gathering.

DUCKWORTH: I think we’re going to need a table that seats more than eight.

MAUGHAN: I think so.

And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

Mike suggests that Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel A Man Called Ove was adjusted to A Man Called Otto in the American movie adaptation because of the American tendency to mispronounce the protagonist’s name. In fact, the movie transplants the events of the book from a Swedish village to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the Scandinavian name Ove would be out of place.

Finally, Angela recalls a piece of advice about the ideal number of attendees for a dinner party: “No more than six; no fewer than five.” But she can’t remember where she heard of the recommendation. While we couldn’t locate the origin of this specific quote, in her 1949 collection of essays, An Alphabet for Gourmets, food writer M.F.K. Fisher writes that the ideal dinner party should consist of six people. Although, Fisher writes, “No two of them should be so much in love as to bore the others.” However, if you want everyone to be involved in the conversation, fewer invitees might be better. A 2019 paper published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior concluded that people find it difficult to sustain a single casual conversion that involves more than four speakers.

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on what it means to be “cool.”

Lynne MCNAMEE: Hi, this is Lynn in Central Florida. I remember in high school focusing on Tara, who was the epitome of cool — Fonz-level cool, and just really analyzing what made her so. And what I came to the conclusion was she was just very comfortable in her own skin. If she tripped over her feet, she didn’t look for an invisible bump in the rug. She just owned who she was and was authentically and proudly herself. I’ve really tried to model that throughout my life. Just being truly yourself, I think, really is the epitome of cool. Thanks so much for the show.

 Bill BLANK: Hello, Angela and Mike. As a listener old enough to have seen James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” when it first came out, I’ve always known that the epitome of “cool” is wearing sunglasses at night, as seen among iconic musicians like Miles Davis, or Lightnin’ Hopkins, or Bob Dylan. I’ve tried numerous times to affect this look, but I’ve always failed. I can’t see anything with sunglasses at night. I might as well walk around with a sleep mask on. So, I’ve learned from this that cool is not so easy to come by. Either you got it, or you ain’t. 

That was, respectively, listener Lynne McNamee and Bill Blank. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a good gathering. Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: which is more important: sympathy or empathy?

DUCKWORTH: I don’t really know how much a person can truly empathize with another person. Empathize. Not sympathize, but empathize.

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*   *   *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. The senior producer of the show is me, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Greg Rippin with help from Jeremy Johnston, Nellie Osborne, and Jasmin Klinger. We had research assistance from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: It’s always Mike’s fault.

MAUGHAN: Bad, Michael. Bad.

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