I’ve heard from some people that being forced to stay home, and to work from home, actually resulted in a kind of relief. The casual socializing–lunch with co-workers, neighborhood pot lucks, and other busyness that bumps us up against other people we don’t know all that well–just stopped.
For me, the traveling stopped. The writers conferences and workshops stopped. Visits to family members stopped. Oh, the peace and quiet! The free time! The money saved! The simplicity!
And yet, there are subtle downsides to a life circumscribed by a small domestic pod on the one hand, and fleeting, arms-length interactions with strangers on the other. Casual relationships are where we learn about most potential new jobs, for example. (Sorry, LinkedIn) Casual relationships more likely to turn into meaningful friendships than chance encounters with strangers are (sorry, dating and friendship apps), and casual acquaintances are more likely to introduce us to people who become our good friends than are the folks our besties know. We’re also more likely to adopt a new idea when we pick it up from a casual acquaintance than if family and friends present it to us.
Having a wide circle of casual acquaintances–sometimes referred by the obnoxious term “social capital”–is a hallmark of successful innovators. Why? Because by interacting with all kinds of different people in various environments, the innovator gains the benefit of many perspectives at variance with her own. From sparking creative ideas to knowing somebody who knows somebody who can suggest great gluten free cakes recipes, the person with the wider circle of acquaintances is likely to be a more well rounded and creative thinker, and to have more resources to throw at any problem.
On an intuitive level, the benefits of casual socializing make sense to me. We know the social media silo has been toxic to civil discourse (for a lot of reasons), and I know that a change of scene does wonders for my imagination, but I hadn’t figured in the societal impact of mass-hermiting. I had not put my finger on the fact that it’s middle-distance relationships that took the biggest hit, and how that impoverishes us.
So I’m peering around at my life, and looking for a small conference I might attend if we continue to make progress toward a post-pandemic society. I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t volunteer at a few horse shows (I used to manage them), or heck, I dunno, join a book club? I don’t want to clutter up my idyllic life with noise, but I also don’t want to get narrow-minded and ossified, because that’s the path of least resistance.
Where are you on the continuum of middle-distance acquaintances? Done with them? Awash in too many? Or–as I am–looking for a small step in a friendly but not too burdensome direction? What step might that be?
This week’s donation will go to my local county library. It’s summer, and many a child (and parent) is relying on the county library to make the days more enjoyable.