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Being nice and pleasing everyone

If at any point in your life you think you’ve managed to please every person around you, I implore you to look harder. Pleasing everyone is practically impossible and even if you manage it you’re probably not making yourself very happy. I rarely find a good balance of allocating time to all the social relationships I have and have often wondered what I could do about it…

Over my short life so far I’ve noticed that the more friends and loved ones that I have in my life, the happier I am. But, of course, I want them to feel loved by me too and, with my life moving along swiftly and free time diminishing rapidly, that’s becoming increasingly difficult. No matter how many hours of each day I dedicate to keeping in touch with friends, showing my family I love them and socialising with the people around me, I always seem to miss people out. Maybe they’re OK with the occasional chat every 12 or 24 months, but it doesn’t stop me feeling bad and I can’t help but feel that those once strong relationships are now dwindling. And annoyingly, it is usually the same people who are forgotten over and over again - often those who live in different time zones to me. Many friendships that I forged and worked at when I lived in Singapore are all but gone and looking at them through the distorted glasses of nostalgia reminds me of how much we had in common and how sad it is that they are no longer in my life. But in any world outside the ideal in my head it is inevitable that my life can only sustain a certain number of friendships and any new person I meet and befriend will probably replace an older friend who I have lost contact with - as per the cognitive limit posed  by Dunbar’s number:

Now that I’ve (rather depressingly) realised that I can only sustain a certain number of social relationships and the rest will inevitably fall by the wayside at one point or another, it’s time to see what I can do about maintaining those existing relationships and ‘pleasing everyone’. And the first clue comes from the talk given by Robin Dunbar in the TED lecture shown above. In his talk he doesn’t talk about the experimental design, number of replicates or even the population sampled, but if we assume his data is robust and the population sampled applies to me and those people in my life, the results bring my attention to that which I know already:

Graphs

Social relationships for women are improved by talking and social relationships for men are improved by activities. As Dunbar points out in his presentation, the results they obtained actually show that physical interaction for women actually had a negative impact upon the emotional closeness with their friends, and the same was true for verbal communication with men. So, lesson learnt - talk to women, preferably on the phone or in some virtual manner, and go for a pint with men whilst trying to limit any kind of chat or banter! Do that and everyone will feel closer to me and, by association, feel happy with our social relationship.

Problem solved! Right?! Unfortunately not - I don’t know about you but my feeling of not pleasing everyone doesn’t just apply to my loved ones - not just my friends and family - it’s also all the acquaintances, guys I play sports with, work peers, colleagues and even Mary in Spar, who continues talking to the other cashiers about deeply personal medical issues whilst I try and buy my lunch! I don’t feel the same kind of guilt towards these people if they’re not happy but I’d still rather I didn’t make their day worse! So how can I please all those people as well?! To answer that, I encourage everyone to read the fantastic convocation speech by George Saunders (if you haven’t already). During his speech he states

“here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.”

By this, and the rest of his speech, I like to think that he is saying that you needn’t necessarily do anything big or bold to please the people around you. You can simply be kind. Particularly to those who you would usually ignore or say a snide comment to. Saunders tells us all that as we get older and we see how useless being selfish really is and he makes the prediction that “as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love”. But why wait for that time to come naturally?! Being kind and loving is surely a good thing all round and, as I mentioned earlier, it’ll help me please everyone! Maybe.

So, lessons learnt today: Accept that my brain can only maintain 150-250 social relationships, talk to women over a phone and online, don’t talk to men unless absolutely necessary and be kinder and loving to absolutely everyone. Always. Even Mary.

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