Widen that circle and you’ll be happier

We might extol the idea of friendships across a wide arch, but when it comes to making and keeping friends, many of us prefer to stick to People Like Us, PLUs.
Image used for illustrative purposes.
Image used for illustrative purposes.Express illustrations

A couple of things I read recently has stayed with me. One is an Eli Shafak quote which goes like this: humans think they know with certainty where their being ends and someone else’s starts. With their roots tangled and caught up underground, linked to fungi and bacteria, trees harbour no such illusions. For (them) everything is interconnected.

The other is an article which suggested that having friends across all age groups, intergenerational friendships as the piece termed it, could be highly beneficial to our wellbeing.

In theory, both these concepts are wonderful. We have read about and marvelled at the intricate, interconnected network trees use to their advantage. We also know how happy people with a large network of friends usually are. In theory. Because the ground reality is, not all of us walk that talk. We might extol the idea of friendships across a wide arch, but when it comes to making and keeping friends, many of us prefer to stick to People Like Us, PLUs.

This kind of gatekeeping is a serious sport in the US. If neighbours spot children playing outside, they call the police because the kids don’t ‘look safe’ playing in their own frontyard. We’ve all heard of elders smiling at toddlers or bending down to chuck their cheeks, only to be met with an icy ‘Please don’t do that’ from the parent of the aforementioned toddler. I was recently told of a new mother who suffered a meltdown when her baby’s paediatrician bent down after a routine check-up and kissed the baby lightly on its forehead. I felt a failure, a mother who wasn’t able to advocate for the rights of her baby, the woman wailed to her group.

Nobody talks openly about safety in community, but it’s a very real and not too subtle presence across our country today. Which is why our elders are forever singing paeans to multicultural festivals, telling the younger generation how they used to flock to Muslim friends’ houses to partake of biriyani on Eid, Christian friends’ houses to munch on rose cookies and plum cake at Christmas and Hindu homes to quaff platters of Diwali sweets.

Back then our dharam never went bhrasht if we consorted with people from other religions, attended their festivals, ate their food. When did religion become so febrile as to be threatened by diversity? More to the point, when did we begin to buy into this polarisation?

Happily, there are enough people who forge and keep friends across the community board. Who walk into relationships, their hearts open to new experiences. Who basically make friends across the generational board, the religious board, the linguistic board, and are the richer for it.

The many shared interest groups—book clubs, cine clubs, wine collectives, foodie groups—are all pointers that some of us want to widen our circles. Because we know the bounty that follows is plentiful, in terms of someone having your back, someone feeding you all kinds of new foods, someone telling you about their POVs, their rites and rituals, their beliefs, which might not match yours but are intriguingly different.

The base factors remain the same, as in developing mutual respect, enjoying the time spent together and building a groundswell of trust.

In the times we live in today, forging such friendships can be challenging. But it’s happening and that’s one great sign that we haven’t totally given up on diversity.

Sheila Kumar



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