Today is November 10 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you surround yourself with people?” Navigating the chaos absolutely requires reflection, introspection, and some degree of solitude as they are all important parts of a healthy level of self-awareness. Other Navigate the Chaos posts discuss the critical role of silence in helping one nurture self-love. Today’s reflection, however, represents a shift, a nuanced consideration, and emphasizes the role of other people. In other words, some days require you to be alone while others demand you surround yourself with people. Understanding when to be alone, and when to surround yourself with people, is one of the many interesting nuances to note as you travel your path of navigating the chaos.
In her May 6, 2019, New York Times article "Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes Casual Friendships" Allie Volpe discussed the importance of maintaining friendships through small and incremental efforts. Examples of potential relationships waiting to blossom with the smallest amount of effort include the parents who see each other dropping their children off at school, the employees at your favorite café, to the other dog walkers in your neighborhood. Volpe noted the research of sociologist Mark Granovetter who labeled the examples as “low-stakes relationships or weak ties.” The positive impact of these connections, noted Volpe, “can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr. Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations and empower us to be more empathetic. We are likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.”
Additional research found a correlation between the number of weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found. A week after Volpe published her article, The New York Times published "Invest in Your Relationships. The Payoff is Immense." by Tim Herrera, who referred to research by Scott Galloway who published The Algebra of Happiness.
Herrera wrote “Mr. Galloway compares the everyday maintenance of relationships to compound interest: We make investments in those relationships through our words and actions, and over time those investments allow our relationships to blossom.” According to Herera Galloway also recommended people “take a ton of pictures, text your friends stupid things, check in with old friends as often as possible, express admiration to co-workers, and every day, tell as many people as you can that you love them. A couple of minutes every day — the payoff is small at first, and then it’s immense.” Herrera concluded “Yes, the metaphor is a bit of a stretch, and at worst one might read it as a tad cold (relationships shouldn’t simply be transactional, of course). But the wisdom contained in it is deeply insightful. Shared experiences with our friends and loved ones — no matter how small — are what get us through the other parts of our lives.”
Joe Keohane published The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World and furthered the themes established by Volpe and Galloway. Highlighting the modern trend of standing in lines and distracted by phones that isolate people from the people around them, Keohane highlights recent research that examines what happens when people bridge the distance between themselves and strangers. He learned that while people are generally wired to sometimes fear, distrust, and even hate strangers, individuals and societies that have learned to connect with strangers benefit immensely. Digging into a growing body of cutting-edge research on the surprising social and psychological benefits that come from talking to strangers, Keohane finds that even passing interactions can enhance empathy, happiness, and cognitive development, ease loneliness and isolation, and root us in the world, deepening our sense of belonging.
In Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter … But Really Do Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman highlight the significant impact of so-called weak ties that people have with others in their lives: the barista who fetches their coffee, the person who cuts their hair, the proprietor of the local market, the folks they see often at the gym or train station. These casual connections with people encountered in the course of daily life, according to Fingerman in an interview, “can give people a feeling that they belong to a community - a basic human need.”
So, while it is vital to spend alone time as you travel life’s path, it is equally important to maintain relationships with others as you will need to rely on them to get you through the chaos at times.
How often do you surround yourself with people?
How often do you allow strangers to start a conversation with you?
How often do you initiate a conversation with a stranger?
How often do you remind yourself of those casual encounters and connections you have throughout your day?