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Columnist Chelsea Kline: Make time for the frivolity of friendships

  • This photo taken by Philip Carcia on Aug. 30, 2018, shows the sunset from Mount Jefferson, one of 48 mountains in New Hampshire with summits higher than 4,000 feet. Philip Carcia via AP

Published: 9/1/2019 9:00:10 PM

Six ways to build, create and recreate community, even when life is just too much.

How many of us have truly felt too busy to make or maintain friendships? How often do we feel buried by our daily insanity to even take a breath, let alone take a moment to reach out to another human being with no agenda other than connection and compassion?

With the constant deluge of dishes, never ending career stress, paying bills, remembering to drink water, getting the cat to the vet, updating your Twitter feed — not to mention the latest horrific news of the administration’s latest erosion of human rights and social justice, who has time for the frivolity of friendships?

You do! Or at least, you should make the time.

The health benefits of connecting with others has been well documented, not the least of which are stress relief and happiness amplification. But what if friendships are deeply valuable as a potent salve for the wounds caused by the relentless dehumanization of our hamster wheel society? Could it be that having and maintaining connections with people is a soothing antidote to the disturbing national rise of xenophobia, hate and polarization?

At times of stress and overwhelm, many of us tend to pull back and retreat, not only into our relatively safe silos, but into ourselves — and friendships often suffer and wither. With the constant newscycle leaving many of practically paralyzed with fear and distress, it can feel like taking the time to reach out to make a human connection is wasted effort.

Before you allow the daily grind to pull you under, think about who benefits and gains power if we retreat and isolate? Hint: The current president, his administration and his far-right supporters are strengthened when we feel shut down, fragile, stuck and hopeless.

I truly believe that making consistent efforts to keep recreating the connective tissue between humans will keep this country decent, keep our democracy intact and keep us truly humane. When people polarize, hate and distrust can flourish and fester, but when we stay curious, kind and humble in our exchanges with others, we can not only learn from each other and keep polarizing forces at bay, but find buoyancy and joy in the process.

But how? How can we possibly make time for, dare I say it, fun, when we all juggle so much and there’s so much to worry about?

Forget about perfection, and ditch the dishes. If we all waited until our lives were perfect to reach out and make or maintain friendships, then many of us would miss out forever! Drop the false promise of perfection and nourish your soul instead.

Go outside — literally and figuratively. Go be around people, and say hello. I know this sounds absurdly basic, but I fear that we are forgetting how to interact since we have screens in our faces most of the time. Also, go outside your normal routines and circles, outside your neighborhood or city, and shake it up!

It’s much easier to be fearful or hateful of others if they are vague unknowns, but when we actually talk to new and different people, those barriers soften. So get out there!

Show up. Invite an acquaintance to grab coffee and actually show up with your full self. There is so much more that we can offer and learn from one another when we are authentic, honest and kind. Ask questions, be curious, and listen (no, really listen). Even if you’ve known someone forever, you may not know all their stories. When you’re working to build an existing relationship, you can learn so much by allowing someone to feel heard.

Invite in — expand your networks and circles. This can be small, like including the new coworker in your lunch plan, to hosting an open invite networking party where guests can invite others. The idea is the same, keep reaching out, keep connecting and keep learning.

Keep the pressure low. Realistically, we still have to wash those dishes (darnit), so sometimes, we only have capacity for something tiny. My rule is when I think of someone, I have to send them a little note of appreciation. If an old friend pops into my head randomly, then I stop right there and send a text, “I love you,” because apparently life is absurdly short.

So leave the dishes in the sink for a bit, silence your phone and keep it in your bag, abandon your Twitter feed for a few moments (I know, gasp!) and please go do your part to continue, create or even recreate communities and relationships, because really truly, what could be more important? When you see me on the street, please say hello. I promise I’ll smile and return the greeting.

Chelsea Kline (she/her pronouns) is the executive director of End of Life Choices New York. Early experiences as a Jewish, queer, low-income, single teen mom formed an ethical basis for her work as an advocate for progressive reproductive rights and social justice. She is a graduate of both Smith College and Harvard Divinity School. In her rare moments of down time, she seeks out stellar acoustic spaces to hone her supernatural whistling skills.

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