My mom.

When it comes to introducing people who’ll enjoy talking, my mom is, by far, my biggest influence. I inherited the hobby, genetically, from her. Mom’s profession was writing — often about friendship — and her pastime was gathering compatible people who’d enjoy talking.

Jean Giono and Frédéric Back.

The author and animator of the film, The Man Who Planted Trees.

Just lucked out one evening during my freshman year in college. This film is a love letter to generosity. I put it on every night as I fall asleep. It’s up on YouTube and embedded below. Thirty minutes that could change your life.

Narrated by Christopher Plummer, it won Best Animated Short Film at the 1987 Oscars.

Ralph Janis.

He founded Cornell Adult University Summer Session.

One day during the fall of 1981, my mom was looking through a grocery circular at our local Shop Rite. On one of the back pages was a 1/2″-tall advertisement for it.

A delightful, warm bouillabaisse of great conversation, for kids and adults alike. We spent every one of my high school summers there (and I ended up going to Cornell for undergrad, too).

If you keep your eyes peeled on the right-hand side of the video at 1:23, you can see my mom, singing, in the white hat. More than thirty years on, she still goes every summer.

James L. Brooks and Norman Lear.

I spent a lot of time, as a kid in the Seventies, in front of the tube, watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Taxi, All in the Family, Maude, and Good Times.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how much of an impact the innumerable, funny, challenging, thoughtful, bebop-y conversations from those shows had on me.