Friday, August 19, 2016

Why I Want to Expand my Circle of Friends

Joy and I started this project because we both wanted to expand our circles of friends.

Why do I want more friends? The answer is quite simple. I love spending time with my wife and family and local friends. But I am at this stage of my life something of an extrovert. I like people. I like spending time with friends, listening to stories, learning about their lives and projects. I want more of this in my life than I now have.

The Thinker

I was not always this way. In my youth I was an introvert. I hated going to school, being with classmates. I never really ‘clicked.’ My favorite memories of elementary school were about excusing myself during a class activity, taking the pass and disappearing to the boy’s room, where I could hide in a stall and think deep thoughts. I was ‘The Thinker”.

College Days

Things began to change in college and grad school where, as a philosophy major I was surrounded by similar high-intensity young people. Grad school was something of a miracle in the mid 1960s. The American university system was rapidly expanding, and oddly, the economy had an urgent need for philosophy professors. In addition to doing what we loved, those of us who were studying philosophy in those years also were also bouyed up by our excellent prospects in life.

As we moved toward our doctoral degrees we witnessed our older colleagues heading off for promising careers. We shared great camaraderie, getting together every weekend for parties and often, in evenings, for serious bull sessions at the local bars. We also enjoyed intra-mural sports; I have pleasant memories of the philosophy team playing softball and basketball against the likes of psychology and geology. The philosophers were always contenders.

I don’t think that any of us realized at that time how very special that period of our lives was. In later years, many of us spoke about how much we missed those days, and how difficult it had been after grad school to hive together with like-minded people. On the plus side, however, almost all of us became professors and enjoyed decades of close relationships with students and colleagues. Productive academics also periodically attend regional, national and international conferences, and over many years I built up a large, far flung circle of professional colleagues and friends.

The Big Change

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung has a wonderful essay about personality changes in the second half of life. He says that in our early adult years we play to our strengths and allow our weaker personality traits to wither, but in mid life we have already established ourselves in social and professional life and no longer need to keep building on our strengths. At that time, we can begin to strive for wholeness. We can concentrate on our weaknesses and learn to repair them. Natural introverts can restore balance by devoting themselves less to private activities like thinking and writing, and by learning how to have fun with others. They reach out, reflect on how to include others in their lives, and learn not only how to get along with others but even to hunger for friendship. Instead of being a burden, others become a need. They learn with Barbra that 'people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.'


When I retired I remained active in professional life: writing books and articles, attending conferences and giving talks and workshops from time to time at universities in the United States or abroad. Compared to my previous day to day life as a professor and academic administrator, however, I was spending much less time with others. I had left the world of students and university colleagues behind. Spending so much time alone, writing and preparing talks and workshops, moreover, meant returning to my early professional days of work in solitude. But this is no longer a natural expression of my personality. I am no longer an introvert.

Hence, I find myself at this stage of life seeking to expand my circle of friends, especially friends closer at hand than my professional friends around the world. One might think of this as restoring the pleasures I once shared regularly with students and colleagues.

If you are seeking to expand your circle of friends, have you thought about why? Let us know about your own friendship projects.   

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fun little exchanges with strangers add sparkle to my day!

Recently I visited New York City for a cocktail party hosted by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and three little exchanges with strangers took place.

1. A man pushed a cart with two enormous vats full of ice up onto the sidewalk from the street, right in front of me. A wheel caught the curb and the entire cart tipped to one side, splashing water and ice. The man caught the cart just before a vat of ice fell off the cart. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, and I said what I knew he was thinking, "That was a close call!" Because we were thinking the exact same thing, it was funny and we both laughed.
2. Two women stood in the middle of a lane hailing a taxi. I was walking toward them and watching them, wondering how long it would take for a cab to stop. Five seconds later a cab stopped and one woman entered the cab. The other said, "Enjoy yourself!" and closed the door. When she walked back onto the sidewalk, she looked at me and said, "She's leaving for a month!" I agreed with her empathically, "She'd better have a good time!" We both smiled and she walked on ahead of me. The encounter was funny because even though I knew nothing about her and her friend, I acted like I did and was part of the drama
3. Later, walking back from the event with my friend, we were talking about interacting with angry people. My friend said, "You don't argue with them; you don't agree with them; you just let them talk." I agreed with my friend just as we approached a stop light. As we stopped, I said, "Yes, if you let them rant for as long as they want, they will always run out of steam." A young woman beside me stopped texting, looked at me and nodded. "Right?!" she said. "Right!" I agreed, and we both laughed. 

I love sharing tiny events with strangers because it means that those people, in one word or one sentence, or even a single gesture, are no longer strangers. One of my all-time favorite brief encounters was when I let a handsome man in a convertible enter the lane ahead of me; he blew me a kiss.

Everybody enjoys this type of short exchange. How could you enable more of these fun exchanges?
1.    Enjoy watching people and make eye contact with them.
2.    Go ahead and say what’s on your mind to someone when you make eye contact. It might be strange, but it may bring a chuckle to you and another person. It’s worth the risk.
3.    When you’re out and about, pay attention to the world and the people around you.
4.    There are little vignettes happening all around you. Be willing to participate!