How many people do you interact with on a daily basis? Not online, or in your email inbox, but in real life?
What about during the week? I had to do a quick tally — (ten coworkers, my husband, a few close friends I see regularly, an occasional dinner or evening out), — maybe twenty to thirty people?
We live in extended networks of people, from families to churches to schools to organizations that we belong to. But how many of them do we actually SEE and interact with face to face in a given week
Kurt Vonnegut, an American writer and humorist, and author of 14 books, published a collection of graduation speeches he’s given in the book, “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?”. In it, he covers in hilarious detail the simplicity of being human, the conundrum of being nice (“be more like Jesus,” he says, regardless of whether or not you think he’s God), and why we’re all suffering from loneliness.
It was so simple, yet so profound:
“Only two major subjects remain to be covered: loneliness and boredom. No matter what age any of us is now, we are going to be bored and lonely during what remains of our lives. We are so lonely because we don’t have enough friends and relatives. Human beings are supposed to live in stable, like-minded, extended families of fifty people or more.”
Do you have fifty people?
He goes on to talk about marriage, and why marriage isn’t falling apart because marriage is wrong, but because our families are too small.
“Marriage is collapsing because our families are too small. A man cannot be a whole society to a woman, and a woman cannot be a whole society to a man. We try, but it is scarcely surprising that so many of us go to pieces.”
So, he recommends, “everybody here [should] join all sorts of organizations, no matter how ridiculous, simply to get more people in his or her life. If does not matter much if all the other members are morons. Quantities of relatives of any sort are what we need.”
In a second speech, he goes on to elaborate on knowing the secrets to what women and men want. It’s remarkably similar to his story above:
“I know what women want. Women want a whole lot of people to talk to. And what do they want to talk about? They want to talk about everything.”
“Men want a lot of pals.”
I don’t fully agree with the simplicity of men and women being entirely different (nor do I believe that marriage is just about a man and a woman) — but the underlying point rings true: men and women want people to hang out with and talk to.
And the cause of fights in marriage? It turns out “what they’re really yelling at each other about is loneliness.”
“What they’re really saying is, ‘You’re not enough people.’”
We are born into our immediate families. It’s up to us to reach out, meet as many people as possible, and build our extended families.