The way we live in America may seem normal to you. You’ve likely been doing it your whole life. But if we take a step back and look at everyone who has ever lived on planet earth (and even the world’s population today), the way American’s live is not normal.
In the book Find Your People, Jennie Allen provides some color for this perspective and the effect it’s having on the way we’re living…
For the past 250 years, we have been declaring our independence with increasing pitch and volume, with greater and greater insistence that we can handle life on our own.
From settlers spreading out and building a life for their families in this vast country to the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s that forced small villages of farmers and their families to fence their properties and become factory workers in big cities, we have been on a downward spiral, away from community.
She goes on to say…
Likely springing from the Enlightenment’s focus on individualism, the self-help movement of the late twentieth century set personal happiness as the ultimate prize. And then came the birth of social media in 1997, which rewards personal-branding continuity and snarky one-upmanship with “likes.”
Independence has become the chief value in this country. We are brainwashed that “being a self-made woman” (or man), “making our own way,” and striving for “personal achievement” are the goals of our brief, beautiful lives.
The result is that loneliness is becoming the biggest health problem in America. While people argue over what to do or not do about mass shootings, it seems like very few recognize that it’s loneliness that’s pulling the triggers.
# of relationships you can maintain
In 1993, a British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar came to the conclusion through his research that humans can maintain around 150 meaningful relationships on average. This became known as Dunbar’s number.
The key word here is maintained. Of course you can know and sporadically interact with many more people than that. But maintaining meaningful relationships requires some level of repetitive time and commitment. Those are limited resources that each person only has so much of.
Not only that, but these 150 people are relationships you’re only maintaining. At that number, you don’t have enough time and commitment to deepen those relationships. For that, the number has to shrink considerably.
Research suggests that those you can be regular social acquaintances with is about 50, those who can fit into personal time and space regularly is about 15, and those you can be close friends with at any given time is about 5.
Let’s think about this the other way around. In order to be in close friendships with 5 people, you have to find personal time and space for about 15, which comes from interacting socially with about 50, which comes from seeing about 150 people enough to maintain a relationship.
We’ve lost our villages
Increasingly, we’ve lost what Allen calls “villages.” Most people throughout history have lived in a village context. These are small, community-based groups that have a level of dependence upon each other. This is even the case for most people on planet Earth today.
Holding independence and personal happiness/success as our chief values has provided for us blueprints of isolation. Our cities and neighborhoods are designed to accommodate these values. We largely do not live interconnected lives with other people.
Because we don’t really need each other, when conflict comes, we simply move on and out of relationships. Or we move for a better job or a nicer neighborhood. Or we attend a church that’s nowhere near our house. All of this activity provides obstacles to finding, making and keeping close friendships in our lives.
So how do you combat this in a culture that’s built its infrastructure out of philosophies that provide so many obstacles?
We have to be more intentional. Here are 3 basic steps you can take to start changing course…
#1 – You have to be around people
The first step is being around enough people regularly. It’s living within a village of about 150 people. More than that and you’re spread too thin. Less than that and it can become slim pickens for those you can actively be close friends with.
This is where our culture has continued to break down. Because of the infrastructure of our lives, many of us aren’t routinely around enough people for enough time to find and keep people to really do life with.
You build a close friendship and then all of a sudden they’re moving away or changing churches or something else happens.
We have to consistently have a pool of enough people in our lives that these changes don’t leave us isolated and lonely.
#2 – You have to live close to people
Second, those people have to live within close proximity to you. You will not spend enough time with them regularly if they don’t. You might really connect with someone you work with or know from church. But if they don’t live near you, your interaction is limited mostly to those environments.
#3 – Combine people and priorities
Third, those people should be involved in your priorities. What are you passionate about? What are your missions, interests and activities? We don’t have enough time for our friends and our priorities to exist in separate worlds. They need to be intertwined.
So look at what you’re already doing as the first source of having that village of 150. Who is doing those things with you? If there’s not enough people in those places, find things to get involved in that include people and line up with what you want to be doing.
You have to make friends
You and I have been presented obstacles to friendships in our lives that are possibly greater than any other civilization in the history of the world.
Allen goes on to point out…
We spend hours alone in our crowded, noisy, screen-lit worlds, we invest only sporadic time with acquaintances, and then we expect close friends to somehow appear in our busy lives.
Friends don’t just appear. You make friends. Making sure these 3 things are characteristic of your lifestyle are the initial steps to finding, making and hopefully keeping close friendships consistently in your life. There’s more to it than that. But this is where to start.