June 25, 2010


A few days ago, I had a disagreement with a close friend. Something she was doing was bothering me and I felt I had to say something to let her know how I was feeling. It was over something small, but to me it felt massive because we never had disagreements - ever. 

Initially I made an assumption that my friend was sincerely unaware of the 'issue' and that once I had alerted her to the particulars, she would apologise and reassure me that she had never meant to offend etc etc. 

I was less interested in the apology and more interested in making the behaviour stop, however when my friend responded in a slightly different manner to what I had assumed, I felt a tidal wave of emotion and a deep sense of anger and betrayal. 

Evidently, my friend had displayed a different response set to the one that I had expected and as such, my sense of connection to her (an intrinsically deep and established connection) felt threatened. All of a sudden it occurred to me that perhaps I had been observing subtle changes in my friend -  first in the way she had been acting and secondly in her out of character response. Of course it is possible that a person could change aspects of their personality and their behaviour. People do it all the time and its considered a healthy part of life when we continually grow and evolve and change. The interesting thing is not that my friend changed or was in the process of changing, but that I was having real difficulty accepting those changes and integrating them into our friendship. 

All of our interpersonal connections are founded primarily on notions of similarity and commonality. We like certain things and we are drawn to people with shared views, beliefs and values. When we meet someone for the first time, we immediately try to establish some common ground in order to make a connection with the other person. 

Commonality defines certain groups of people such as women, men, vegetarians, teachers, parents, artists etc but it also distinguishes and separates classes of people from other classes of people. Racism, sexism and all types of group discrimination occur in the 'assumed' absence of shared commonality and established group bonds become more united through their continued observation of solidarity which is often strengthened by exaggerated notions of the other/outsider. In other words, the 'us and them' mentality is often necessary because it creates feelings of belonging and safety. 

This phenomena was particularly evident after the 911 attacks when New Yorkers felt deeply connected in their shared experience of grief.  Overnight the group dynamic flourished and spread across the country by fostering a hatred for the enemy in a prime example of the us vs them dynamic. Eventually this became a solidified national distain for Muslims. Group psychology is intriguing to say the least, especially when you stop to observe the many 'unofficial' groups we all belong to beginning with sex, race, religion, family, employment and so on. 

The media are very good at picking on people who do not fit neatly into the main established groups (or boxes as they are otherwise known) and I have a feeling that during the lead up to the election, Julia Gillard is about to feel that wrath from both the media and the opposition. 

During the U.S Presidential primary election, a television psychologist who specialised in group dynamics, suggested that John Mcain and Barrack Obama were more likely to bond over a cold beer than John Mcain and Hilary Clinton or Barrack Obama and Hilary Clinton. 
In this group of political opponents, two were white and one was black but two were men and one was a woman. 

According to the psychologist, Mcain and Obama shared the common ground of being men and on most occasions sex trumps race in group dynamics. In order for this theory to work of course, there must be a third dynamic or outside component, which in this case was the female component of Clinton. 
The importance of the third component is paramount as it gives the other two components something to ostracise; a process that adheres them closer together as one established group. 

In other words a white man and a black man can sit in a bar lamenting how neither of them can work out the female species and boom! they have established common ground and not even issues of race can break up the dynamic. 

In terms of a social experiment, I particularly like watching that television show Wife Swap because you see these redneck racist fools swapping wives with some African American family and just because the African American woman folds the washing like the redneck's wife or gets the family playing charades or eating at the table.... Boom! racial stereotypes are broken down and blown out of the water! Suddenly the common ground between this hillbilly and his fake African American wife or vice versa (for the duration of the show) has been established and one small common thread is evidently more powerful than 30 or 50 years of hardcore ingrained racial hatred. I have seen it happen over and over again and as a social experiment that TV show is mind boggling because it proves the sociologists theory that we all crave human interaction based on shared similar experience and commonality. 

Human connections are to say the least, mysterious and fragile bonds that can at any moment change their shape and their identity. Romantic relationships often end because one partner accuses the other of changing but its really because notions of commonality are challenged and feelings of safety are threatened. 

What occurred with my friend is really no different. The more she belittled something of value to me, the more threatened I became that I was losing her when really I was only losing a small piece of common ground. 

While I don't think I would ever really lose the special bond that I share with my friend, I am interested in my response to things shifting and changing when I realise they are beyond my control. The fear it seems is tied up in the next realisation that we cannot hold onto anything, least of all those people we love and cherish the most. 


Alex said...

Real friendship is the most important relationship you can have. Don't leave it to long to connect.

Anonymous said...

excellent as usual. Metaphysical, where self starts and stops. But jeez you must watch a lot of crap TV :)