In last week’s edition to the Friendship Series we discussed what friendship is and the different types of friends we have. This week we are going to talk about the largest, most distant “Friendship Ring.” This circle contains your weakest social connections, but it is also the circle with the largest population. This week we are going to talk about your acquaintances.
Contrary to what Facebook and MySpace may tell you, this group of people are only friends in an academic sense. They know your name, what you look like, and possibly even a few trivial facts, but beyond that there is not much of a connection. These are people like coworkers that you nod to in the hallway every day, the friend of a friend you met at a party, and the neighbor you wave to when you are mowing your lawn. You are friendly to each other, but you wouldn’t ask them to dinner or buy them a birthday present. This is the vast majority of the people you interact with in your daily life, and even though they only exist on the periphery of your social world, they still play a large and important role in your life.
Our cave dwelling ancestors even realized the importance of acquaintances in their lives. Cavemen, or at least the cavemen that lived long enough to procreate and become your ancestors, figured out that the more people they could surround themselves with, the easier and safer their lives would be. More people meant bigger hunting parties, more people to fight off predators, and more potential mates. As a result, the cavemen that survived formed tribes or clans to increase their chances of survival. We still do this today, it just looks a little different. We travel in groups when we are in a situations that feel new or unsafe, following the old adage “there is safety in numbers.” We go to places with lots of people similar to us when we are on the prowl for a date. And, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we even measure our social status to some extent by the number of online friends we have. These distant, detached relationships can have a more meaningful influence on your life as well, as I will illustrate with a story from my own life.
I grew up in a small town with a small high school of around 500 students. When you live in a small town like mine, everybody knows everybody, so essentially everyone you go to high school with is an acquaintance at the very least. Due to my disability and being in a wheelchair, I required assistance with various tasks in order to get around in high school. I needed help opening doors, getting my textbook open to the right page, and bussing my tray in the cafeteria among numerous other tasks. In my 4 years there though, I rarely, if ever, had to ask for help with any of this. My peers just did it. They would realize that I needed help, and after being in school with me from childhood they were very aware of my needs, and without me saying a word they would just take care of me. They were not my friends for the most part, and they didn’t know much about me or my life, but they still helped me. I cannot even begin to tell you how much this meant to me, and I am certain my life would be much different if not for their selfless acts of kindness.
This story is an example of how much of an impact your acquaintances can have on your life. If not for the help of my acquaintances, my high school experience would have been very difficult, and I may not have graduated valedictorian and gotten into Notre Dame without their assistance. They changed the trajectory of my entire life, and I couldn’t tell you anything about them and they know very little about me. I hope that I also had a positive impact on their lives by showing them how I live with my disability and overcome the obstacles I face. By surrounding myself with as many acquaintances as I did, and by appreciating their assistance in my life, I improved my chances of being successful and happy.
You have now seen how important your acquaintances are in creating a healthy social world around you. These people you interact with only superficially, still play a large role in your overall happiness and success. In addition, everyone you meet starts off as an acquaintance, so without appreciating and building this level of friendship, you would never be able to populate the other two more intimate “Friendship Rings.” The larger of these two circles, your average, everyday friends, are the topic of next week’s edition of the Friendship Series.