In my last post, and in my post on narcissistic behavior, I was complaining about conversations that too often involve other people dumping their problems, or new acquaintances who want only to talk about themselves. I had an experience earlier this week that helped me appreciate a different kind of social interaction. Nothing compares with a truly intimate and reciprocal exchange between close friends, but here on Christmas Eve, I want to write about some very satisfying interactions I’ve had with strangers.
For the first time, we’re here in Colorado for the holidays; in our local town, there’s a big sledding hill, and earlier this week, we took our new sleds for an inaugural run. There were other families on the hill, people we’d never met before; I was struck with how easily we fell into conversation. We talked about the merits of the different sleds we all owned and laughed as the children went over bumps and tumbled onto the snow. One family offered to let us try their Flexible Flyer, an aged piece of equipment the father had owned since he was a little boy. Other than this last personal bit of information, nobody talked about themselves or trotted out a favorite story; nobody asked us any questions. It was a completely satisfying social experience and, in its way, intimate.
It made me think about the conversations we often have with other hikers, met by chance on the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. The “camaraderie of the trail,” I call it.
“Did you see that moose on the meadow?”
“What’s the trail like up ahead?”
“Keep your eyes open for a patch of glacier lilies off to the right, about a quarter mile from here.”
Occasionally, you will meet the slightly annoying hiker who says that the trail doesn’t compare to what he saw in Alaska, or slips in a reference to his trip to Tibet, but by and large, these are completely satisfying experiences to me — short, three to five minutes, focused on our shared impressions of Rocky Mountain National Park. Everyone is in a good mood, doing something they love to do, and eager to share that experience with other people. Like my encounter with my fellow sledders, it feels oddly intimate.
Connecting to people in the context of an activity everyone cares can be a way to have more meaningful conversation. Not all conversations need to be personally intimate, where you get to know one another better — that is still my favorite kind of social interaction. But within the context of a shared experience, it’s possible to feel more connected to and intimate with strangers than we might with an old friend, listening to her complain about her latest boyfriend.
Finding Your Own Way:
Outside of work, many of us have too few interactions of the kind I’m describing. If you’re dissatisfied with the social contact you’re having, maybe it’s time to look for something different. There’s a lot to be said for hobbies, not the kind you pursue alone but ones that bring you into contact with people who share your interests. I feel I have a deeper understanding now of what draws people to join a chorus or sports league; beyond the love of sport and music, it’s the opportunity to engage with other people, men and women who may never become close friends but with whom you can engage in meaningful conversation about a shared passion.
During the holidays when families get together, familiar patterns can stir up old resentments and rivalries. Maybe a way to avoid falling back into our familiar roles or zoning out in front of the television set is to plan an activity. Last Thanksgiving, a bunch of us went out for an intimate game of disc golf (not just the guys) and talked about nothing of substance. Everyone had a great time and we felt closer afterwards. Can you think of an activity you could share with your siblings or other relatives, something all or many of you might enjoy?
Merry Christmas, everyone.