(Delivered at UUSF on May 19, 2019. See a video here or listen to the audio here)
I'm not great with deep friendships.
My parents moved to rural Oregon to get away from the cities they grew up in, so I grew up with a creek in my backyard and plenty of access to nature, but I didn't have any neighbors my own age. I still played games with my friends, went to sleepovers, and was active in after-school clubs, but I also needed to be comfortable with my own company in my own house, whether that meant playing video games, reading a book, or just being in my own mind. And that has stayed with me to this day.
There's plenty of reinforcement for that ideal of individualism and independence in our society as well. In the business world, we hear researchers talking about the strong power of weak ties. The idea that when you're looking for a job, you'll probably find it through a loose acquaintance rather than a close friend because it's easier to have a lot of acquaintances and because those acquaintances are in different circles than you. And I'm good with acquaintances. But while a lot of weak ties and individualistic success might get us a job, they might not make us as happy as we would be staying up late and talking with a real friend.
I realized this in college, and I wanted to do better. One thing I tried to do was create more opportunities to go deeper. Sure, I was an introvert, and I might not feel comfortable being a party animal or going out of my way to make a bunch of friends. But when someone asks me how I'm doing, I can say a little more than just, "I'm doing well, yourself?" Even something simple like, "I have a lot of travel coming up, and I'm feeling stressed out" or "I'm happy that my sister is visiting from Oregon and is able to see my reflection" leaves the door cracked open for follow up questions and for a deeper connection.
I also tried to get better at staying in touch. I used to write what I would call "verbose letters" -- imagine a holiday card, but instead of a few paragraphs, it's a few dozen pages. In retrospect, that wasn't the right approach since a long letter is less approachable than something short, and I haven't kept up with the habit, but I still think it's important. Think about all the people that you used to be close with before falling out of touch. Old coworkers, friends from high school or college, people you used to volunteer with. I bet most of us could think of at least one person that we'd like to catch up with. I know I can. And for me, small habits like adding a reminder in my calendar to say "hi" to a friend on their birthday have helped a lot.
So I'm still comfortable with my own company and in my own mind. I'm still an introvert. And I'm still better with acquaintances than with friends. But so too am I trying to deepen my connections with others, even if that starts with something as simple as wishing an old friend "happy birthday."
And building connections like that is a part of our faith. Our seventh principle is a respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, and we talk about it as if it were just a natural phenomenon that exists and that we just need to accept, but it isn't. Respect for interdependence and interconnection is like respect for a social movement. It's not a belief. Interdependence is a lived reality, and the way that we respect it is by putting in the work and making it true.