Friday, August 19, 2016
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.
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”.
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.