Sunday, October 19, 2014

Popping In

I am a big fan of how borders are fading and we are spreading out. I have lived in London for almost 6 years now, but have been lucky enough to get to go back to South Africa regularly. Along with my source of news being Twitter or the internet, and social media providing contact with friends from around the world, I have not felt like I am really in a different country.

It is a very different experience from when I first came to the UK in between school and university. I got my first internet based email account and used to write emails back home in much the same form as letters. I was working as an Assistant Teacher and would need to arrange to use one of the school computers after hours to do so. I did not have a mobile phone and calls back to South Africa were expensive and so infrequent. That has all changed.

Having said that, I still think distance is still one of our biggest barriers to happiness. The benefits of spreading out have their trade offs. When I was growing up we used to have Sunday lunch at my grandparents house with our whole family. It was fantastic having a weekly get together. Following a Bruce Lee 'Absorb, Discard, Add'* philosophy, I have always thought the Jewish tradition of Friday night Shabbat dinner would be worth absorbing. I have been lucky enough to share two of these occasions with a friend and former colleague. There is good food and people make an effort to be there. The host prepares some 'food for thought' and there is a discussion. The discussion links back to texts that may have been shared and sometimes people are assigned something to look into in advance.

Spreading out is awesome, but the default is no longer that we live 5-10 minutes away from friends and family. I have lived in Putney for 6 years and I will admit that I don't have local buddies that I just pop over to see. London is very spread out and there seems to be a time barrier where if someone is further than, say, 20 minutes away - you don't tend to just drop in to see if they are around.

My point is that because of distance our relationships fall out of the habit category. We don't just pop over for a cup of tea because of the effort and time required making it not worth the risk that someone is not there or busy. Everything has advantages and disadvantages. Those who value staying close to friends and family and building a very local and strong community get to keep these things. Those who spread out get more of an opportunity to pursue their individual passions if they vary from the groups.

For the 'spreaders', I think we have to make a more conscious effort to invest in relationships. Perhaps we have to do things that feel false, like making notes of when last we spoke to people and setting reminders to make calls/have coffees/write letters. We are creatures of habit and distance makes the habit of investing in those we care for harder.

*'Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own' - Bruce Lee

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