This past weekend I was in the process of doing all my writing due for the week, and noticed that I had been inside all day. Too much of that's not good for anyone.
I stopped my work, saw that it was sunny out, and although almost nobody I knew was around, I was determined to enjoy the weather anyway. Still, with many of my friends out of town, it felt a bit lonely.
I knew full well that one of the most amazing outdoor festivals of Chicago in the summer was going on, called the Old St. Pat's festival. An old band was playing there called Collective Soul, so I dropped my work and went down to see what was going on.
When I walked onto the grounds, the sun was going down, the band had started a song called, The World I Know, and as far as the eye could see it was an ocean of people.
The space was tight, and even then it covered something like five square blocks. The crowd was endless.
They were clustered in groups of three to six, forming circles that clumped together like marbles in a jar, yet I was standing outside of any single group. By then, a friend and I were having an impossible time finding each other, even with our cell phones and texting.
I noticed, then, how often I use a computer, a blackberry, answering client questions and responding to friend's news through it on email and Facebook and Twittering - daytime, middle of the night, it doesn't matter. With modern telecommunications, we are always "connected," but the quality of the connection is something to wonder about.
Suddenly, I became aware of an idea we don't often think about: Seeing crowds - all these people in person - is a profound human experience in the sheer physicality of what other people mean to us.
I asked a staff person how many were there.
"10000" was the answer.
I looked at the crowd at first and felt like it was such a strange thing to think that not a one of them knew me personally - yet here we were, all together physically.
Really thinking on it, though, I started to doubt this.
It was actually very likely that a lot of them know my name or face socially or professionally, but through the hustle and bustle I just hadn't run into them yet.
Still further, I'd bet I've written quite a few of them - and finally, it dawned on me that in email and text, Facebook and live, in person - as patients, as friends, as clients of our services for men and women I have likely treated in my lifetime, or met, written, helped, or befriended - I must certainly "know" many multiples of this collection of people.
In my second book with Penguin, The Power of Female Friendship (2008), I cite Lisa Habib, of WebMD on the topic of friendship connections to others:
By Lisa Habib WebMD medical News
June 23, 2006 -- How many people are you really close to? Chances are, not as many as you might have been 20 years ago.
A new survey shows that most people's circle of confidants is on average about one person smaller now. And the percentage of people who say they have no one to confide in has now reached about 25%.
Dwindling Discussion Network
Sociologists call this circle your "discussion network" -- people you reach out to for help, advice, or just as a sounding board. In the new research, they say the network is important because it shapes "the kinds of people we become."
The new conclusions come from the General Social Survey, which has been conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago since 1972. Researchers looked at results from 1985 and 2004.
Duke University and University of Arizona sociologists found the average number of people who are considered close confidants dropped by nearly one-third, from 2.94 in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. They call this drop dramatic.
"We were surprised to see such a large change," says Miller McPherson, PhD, research professor of sociology at Duke and professor of sociology at the University of Arizona.
In a news release, McPherson says the researchers are even a bit skeptical about the results. Regardless, he says they are "confident there is a trend toward smaller, closer social networks more centered on spouses and partners."
'Not Good for Society'
Their report says there was a drop in both the number of confidants who are friends and the number of confidants who are family members. But the drop-off was greatest in the number of confidants who are friends; people are relying more on the nuclear family.
People have fewer contacts through clubs, neighbors, and organizations outside the home, the report says.
Is that so wrong?
"This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action," says Duke's Lynn Smith-Lovin, PhD, in the news release.
Blame the Internet?
While the survey didn't determine why there's been such a change in our discussion networks, the researchers have a few ideas.
They speculate the increase in the number of hours people work keeps them from interacting with their community.
The growth of the Internet as a communication tool also may be to blame. While the Internet might keep us connected to friends, family, and neighbors, it may diminish the need for us to actually see each other to make closer connections, the researchers say.
They also say the way survey participants answered the questions in 1985 and 2004 might be different, the researchers say. These days, people might not consider instant messaging or email true "discussion."
So, close friends and the physicality of spending time with them are dwindling, perhaps in part due to technology, while our telecommunications have been exponentially on the rise for many years.
Seeing the numbers, live, at this festival made all the difference for me - new ways of thinking about friendship connections - and it can do the same for you.
The size of the crowd was the kind of thing that makes you breathless.
Could it really be that we can affect the lives of that many people? When you see them in person, the realization is staggering. Once you do the exercise of really taking the size of a physical crowd to heart, you'll take pride in the impact you've had on people in person, and never be lonely in a crowd again. You can know that your effect is out there somewhere, in their heads, their conversations, and their ways of living - your friends.
Now, I know, as you do, that often when we do good for someone else they may not let us know how it affects them months or years down the road. We're all used to hearing more complaints from others than thanks.
But what would it do for your life if you literally knew - precisely - the end result on the lives of others you have had? Something out of It's a Wonderful Life, to be sure.
You can try this out for yourself.
I looked it up.
100,000 People Have an Opinion of You
A man named William Leat Heat Moon was driving through North Dakota. To pass the time, he did some mental calculation on the total number of other people he has encountered in his whole life - whether a wave hello, or a greeting, conversation, date or relationship, the number he arrived at taking into account who he has met so far, and those he will meet until he is ninety totaled an admittedly generous but whopping 100,000 people!
Go HERE, to see the article:
If there are about 30,000 days in a ninety year-old life, that's about three new encounters a day.
You clearly have this opportunity just in going down the block to get a Subway sandwich for lunch five days a week. Yet, the question arises whether you will bother to smile, to say HI, to approach the men and befriend the women as sisters on your team - with a purpose to live for.
What if you touched the lives of others only once they've reached middle age, and have half way to go to the end of it all?
Then the unique way you will have affected them - the aspect of your skill, your nature, your ideas, beliefs, and care - will have led to a total of others you will have had an impact on to an incomprehensible amount - about the population of the earth itself - over 5 BILLION people!
That's all you. Literally, in your lifetime you actually have the chance to affect the lives of approximately the whole population of the earth.
You do, and that's just routine living, a flash of recognition or bothering to say hello!
The sad truth is that today - as seen in Habib's article - many cannot even count the number of close friends they have on one hand, and the number of dates and romantic encounters they can count might be that in a number of months, or years, or even longer.
There is such a large abyss between us, in our heads, behind our computer screens, and the real, live people out there to know, date, and team with.
Part of the problem may be that we don't bother to smile, or initiate, or approach FIRST, and I challenge you now to start doing that...
But the other part may very well be that we don't know how, or when, where, or are even aware that this incredible opportunity is going on around us every day.
When we cultivate the core human skill without which, no change or growth can happen in life - psychologists call it Observing Ego, and Buddhists call it "mindfulness" - we are no longer doomed to have social, career, or romantic regrets.
With Observing Ego, you are going to start being more aware of your social opportunities.
When you do, you are not surrendering the steering wheel of your life to your stresses, challenges and tyrannical work schedule anymore. You are in the driver's seat, meeting those 5+ billion people.
Some of us don't notice when our friendships dwindle or decline in quality. We stay passive in life and devoted to a career, but all around us there is opportunity to befriend others, to spread our social networks, and through those, to filter down to the closest, best friends we could imagine, narrowing the dating activity we do down to just a few, and ultimately just one right person for life if you so choose.
If you were to even become slightly aware of the sheer number of men and women - not that you already know - but whom you could meet if you were the one to initiate friendly contact, it would cause you embarrassment and regret to know what you have been missing.
As many as 100,000 people could know you and have fond emotionsabout the memory, even if they never got your name.
As many as 5 billion could potentially have some small improvement in life because of you.
What if you don't do anything from here forward, and not many of those people at all will give you a second thought when you're gone?
If you don't start acting now, awake and aware of the sheer numbers of people you could affect or help, the people who could be your allies, and the people you could attract and befriend, you will have massive regrets when you realize what you will have lost.
You will never have given yourself the chance to make impact on between 100,000 and 5 billion people.
You may at times think that friends have forgotten you, or that you don't know nearly as many people as you used to, or that your life did not measure up to what you thought it would be when you were young.
All that thinking is wrong, because you don't have the bird's eye view. You are only one opinion of you, out of many thousands, most likely.
In fact, 100,000 people can't possibly be wrong about you.
That many people could actually admire, appreciate, and have better lives because of you at this very moment - and you don't need to be a star, a celebrity or politician to enjoy this likelihood.
You can just be the ordinary, but unique you - of all the people in the world, the only you that could possibly have touched others in the specific way that you do.
Go into a crowd today and consider how many people it really is.
The Definition of Friendship
A definition of friendship I devised, that's always been helpful for me, is:
Consistent, mutual, shared positive emotion.
By consistency, we are being mature, have good boundaries, and keep our promises.
Being mutual, we do lean on friends, but also give back, as 50-50 as possible.
Being positive, having good emotions to give away is the core of friendship. We shy away from negative emotion and are attracted to the positive. Being depressed or anxious actually harms our friendship ability, whether we choose to accept that or not.
The aspect of sharing is the one so affected by technology. For eons we have been hard-wired for in-person communication and friendship, yet today we try at times to do it almost entirely electronically.
The sharing of friendship suffers.
But that's what really feeling the effect of the crowd did for me, and it could do the same for you - experiencing the physicality in the massive number of people you have a chance to know.
Time to smile more, wave more, and be the one with the responsibility to initiate, approach, befriend, and continue to maintenance your connection to other people.
Your life's destiny is depending on it, and - you never know - perhaps the destinies of over 100,000 others.