Lately I’ve been reading a book called, ‘Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You’’, by Sam Gosling, Ph.D. Last night I finished a chapter in which Gosling writes about a study done between strangers and what it takes to bring them together; what it takes to make them friends; where the line between small talk in a subway car ends and a friendship begins. In this study, psychologist Arthur Aron places two strangers in a room for an hour; they are given 36 questions. One person reads a question and they both answer. The questions are created to quickly jump to intimacy levels that would typically take weeks, months, or years to form. If we were asked to describe an acquaintance we would usually describe them with traits, such as friendly, lazy, helpful, easygoing, honest, happy, moody, selfish, or shy. To describe a friend is not as easy. Mere adjectives cannot capture the personalities we are so close to. The personalities we have come to love deserve more than adjectives. Enough rambling though; I’m getting a bit sidetracked.
Today, on my way to the post office, I saw a grandfather carrying his grandson, who must have been about 2 years old, on his shoulders. I saw him stop, drop to all fours, and let his grandson hop off. I thought it seemed like an odd way of letting him down but I didn’t think anything more of it. As I drove by, the grandfather curled into a fetal like position. Stopped at the red light, I waited for him to stand up from the sidewalk and continue on, but he just stayed, curled up, as his grandson watched him rock back and forth. The light turned green and I immediately felt that something was wrong, he looked like he was in obvious pain. I drove through the intersection and made a U-turn. As I turned back onto the street where they had been I saw that they were up and walking again. I still don’t know what happened but in that split second these two people went from strangers to people I felt close to. They didn’t feel close to me, they probably didn’t even notice me, but I was worried about them, just as I would be worried about a friend in the same situation. What is it about certain emotions that bring us together? I first saw them walking and felt happy seeing them together, of course that made me feel closer to them but it was only until I felt fear that my level of intimacy for them skyrocketed. What is it about fear or even sadness or embarrassment that makes friends? Is it the fact of banding together to help one another? Is it our response of letting our guard down in order to reach out for safety? Like reaching for your neighbor’s arm while watching a horror film? Happiness leaves room for walls to stay erect; our need to feel safe orders a demolition of them.