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Want good friends? Raise more barns. | New World Seeds & Tubers

Tom and Arthur Lee Jacobson sitting in the trailer after work. Tom is soaked to the bone.

One of my friends sent me this link (caution, some vulgar language!!):

Seven reasons the 21st century is making you miserable

You don’t need to read it; I can summarize it briefly: having a certain type of personal freedom in life results in fewer and more shallow relationships.

For most of human existence, most people didn’t travel much and were “stuck” in the same place with the same people for their whole lives. Some would come and go–but mostly due to birth and death. This would be true even of nomadic peoples, who travel in specific groups.

Knowing this, people used to make more effort to get along with their family, friends, and neighbors.

Friends and family working together

I don’t think it’s so much a matter of getting to choose your friends, or what criteria you might use to choose them, as suggested by the article. For one thing, people used to look like and be more culturally similar to their neighbors, so they already had a lot in common. For another, people nowadays replace their carefully-chosen friends quite readily, and THAT is the heart of the issue.

I read an article that said that Americans tend to prune their friendships an average of every 2 years (an average marriage lasts something like 6 years, btw). That sounds about right to me; my wife, some of our kids, and I have all experienced quite suddenly being persona non-grata without any obvious triggering incident. Just one day out of the blue a fairly blunt hint, or sometimes even an explicit statement is delivered, that you’re not welcome to call anymore. You’ve been pruned.

What was interesting were the comments at the end of the article. No disbelief or for that matter sense of scandal: a lot of people thought it was an obvious and somehow necessary fact of life.

I read similar comments after an article in a British internet newspaper regarding how most Brits indicate they’d rather spend Christmas and other holidays with friends not family. A typical response was “well of course people would rather spend time with company of their own choosing, than with an arrangement you were stuck with by birth!”

Chris Homanics helping out with the potato harvest.

How about friends AND family? I’ve known people sociable enough to invite their relatives, friends, and then go around and round up the neighbors!

In any case, people crave friendship but the opportunity of being able to replace old relationships with new ones as a matter of convenience seems to be too tempting for many people.

I’m not sure the cost quite sinks in. Maybe these relationships are “friendships” but they’re too superficial to serve much more purpose than to validate someone’s sense of self. I have a feeling they end abruptly if they ever once fail to serve that purpose. You can always find new “friends”, and early in the relationship, before “the honeymoon is over”, they’ll be on their best behavior!

Someone I thought was a friend told me off rather bluntly some years ago. He told me about what he claimed were his real friends: “My…friends and I, we have a beer”. At the time, I was too wound up in my own “story”, but nowadays I have thicker skin and a kinder heart (not that I told him off–that’s not my style–but I didn’t tell him anything useful he needed to know to grow as a person): I would have gently informed him that no, those aren’t friends, those are beer-buddies; they won’t be there for you when you need friends. I always had been…and if push came to shove I still would be. I don’t think beer-buddies and friends are mutually-exclusive by nature, but they tend to be in practice. There’s not enough investment in the relationship to be more than very superficial.

One of my lady-friends told me about an incident in which a friend of hers was coldly told “THIS IS A PLAY-GROUP NOT A SUPPORT GROUP” when she started talking about her personal life. Now I suppose that if she were neurotic and whiny they might not want to listen to a list of complaints, thought it seems there would be a kinder way of saying so. But, I have a feeling their tolerance was low and they meant exactly that: keep the relationship strictly business! I’ve heard similar stories elsewhere: people being very blunt about wanting to keep relationships as superficial as possible: we are NOT friends.

Someone once told me this story: A luxury river-boat was sailing up the Ganges in British Imperial India. The captain noticed that the handsome cabin-boy disappeared for the night last seen in the company of a wealthy debutante. The next morning he cheerfully greeted her. She slapped him hard and informed him that “spending the night does not constitute an introduction”.

Once a discussion happened at work in which the bosses asked us what we might like as a motivating reward for achieving a certain important goal. One proposal put on the table was to send us on a mini-vacation as a group.

“WITH THESE PEOPLE?!” one of my then-colleagues asked incredulously. “Send us on our own vacations. I don’t want to spend any more time with these people than I have to.”

She was smiling but it wasn’t a joke. (She has the same type of haughty personality–and mannerisms!!–often portrayed by the late Agnes Moorehead).

That’s one reason I don’t work in a corporate environment anymore. That kind of atmosphere does not suit me.

This is how we live while working days at a time in the field.

I work with friends. We look out for each other outside of business.

I didn’t have clip art of what the media presents as bonding activities, so I went looking online. Here’s a typical article:

Male bonding activities

Number one on the list is “Grabbing a beer after work”.

That’s fine but it’s typical of modern mindsets: little ventured, no commitment, and it revolves around commercial activities. Similarly #5 activity “watching the game”. Most of the rest of the list is either commercial or recreational, EXCEPT the very last one–#10, Fixing something. #10; it was an afterthought. I have a feeling that the emphasis on recreation, entertainment, and commercial products is the result of corporate commercialism defining modern culture. You make closer friends raising barns than raising a beer.

You get out of friendships what you invest into them. People are understandably reluctant to risk a lot when they might be let down. Fair enough: what you do is keep increasing your investment as you build trust. Reciprocation doesn’t have to be equable; I have friends richer and poorer than I am; it just has to be dependable. If you’re there for me, you can expect me to be there for you.

That also means that when expectations are disappointed, paradoxically if you can resolve the dispute amicably the whole experience strengthens the relationship. “Wow, I was such a jerk and he’s still talking to me, I guess he must be a true-blue friend!” It builds trust and commitment.

You might be wondering why for a post about building friendships through work, I don’t have pictures of people working as a group. That’s because up through now there’s been no one to spare to take the picture.

Notice however that we’re happy digging, sweating, living and working like peasants…there’s no need for pretentious circumstances or bought experiences. We’re there for each other through thick and thin. That’s what I like about my friends; they have character.

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