We are already quite good at creating many things we want in our lives, but have we achieved the diversity of friends and associates that we want?
I don’t think so.
What stands in our way?
There is nothing wrong with comfort and contentment. In fact, I am a fan of both. There is a sweet-spot of room temperature for many of us. For me that is about 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Too much higher and I feel uncomfortably warm; too much lower and I feel chilly. I can certainly survive at 65 degrees, but I will look for a jacket or sweater, scan the walls for a thermostat, and even complain. In at least two places I have worked, I introduced room temperature into departmental meeting agendas. The point is that I like my creature comforts and advocate to get them met. I have the opinion that most of us do. Affluent people may associate isolation or distance with comfort and advocate for zoning law changes that allow for higher walls or remotely controlled gates. People with far fewer financial resources may cut coupons for a favored toilet paper.
We will advocate for even our smallest comforts to achieve some level of contentment.
Still, I believe most of us are not content with our circle of friends and associates. I argue that we are more likely resigned. The comfort we experience with the status of our friendships is one of convenience and familiarity, the ease that comes with years of investment. Closer inspection, however, suggests to me that these circles have openings we don’t know how to fill, and we give up trying or we wait for the unlikely to happen. Some of us take a position of parallel play, working or socializing near the people we really want in our lives instead of with them. We adopt a level of contentment akin to my 68 degree room – we can live with it.
The development of community relies in part on the ability of its members to forge social relationships with each other. By social, I mean those relationships in with we engage, share meaning, regularly interact through some level of agreement, and develop over time a scheme of interaction of sorts through which mutuality is forged.
I have checked out with quite a few people my argument that we are resigned to the status of our circles of friends and associates. I ask, “Does your network of friends and associates look like you want it to?” Despite some initial responses that reflect surprise or defensiveness about my question, more often than not I hear people point to some improvements they’d like. Fewer will say they don’t want current members of their groups to stick around. Rather, they share that they lack the time or skills to add and retain more and different people in their circle.
In the fewer times when I check on the racial and ethnic or age group or gender composition of their friends, answers are more varied but, overall, I hear that there is a less than satisfying resolution of inclusion. Even people whose networks are quite varied share that associates who are dissimilar to the rest of their posse are engaged in one-on-one rather than in smaller group settings. It seems we just don’t believe we have the social skills to resolve this. I believe we are waiting for someone else to adjust the temperature in our communities.
Friends of mine in Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Appleton are taking on the challenge of creating more deeply satisfying community for themselves. Their circles of associates outside of family relationships are very diverse in age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and education. They are challenging their comfort with the status quo by envisioning what they want and going for it. It looks to me like they are doing less about addressing how they can recruit people into their lives and more about getting out of the way of those people who want into their lives.
I cannot say that my friends will achieve the contentment that comes with getting things just right, but I suspect that they will find the joy of having tried.