One Thing & Another

Delray Beach, Florida

Notes From My Journal: Are your friends really your friends?

The couple sat next to one another, young and pretty, heads bowed to their cellphones. When their food came, they looked up briefly and thanked the waiter. Then they began their meal and went back to looking at their phones, which were now face up on the table next to their plates.

“That’s what I mean,” JP said, glancing over at them. “All this communication technology has made people less social. More isolated.”

I did a bit of research and found a study that was on point. You may have heard of it. It’s the General Social Survey (GSS), which has been monitoring societal change in the USA since 1972. Participants are asked (among other things) how many very close friends they have. In 1985, the average answer was nearly three (2.94). Asked the same question in 2004, the number was down to nearly two (2.08).

Another related item: an article entitled “Are My Friends Really My Friends?” by someone named Teddy Wayne. The article talked about the research of Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford.

According to Dunbar, the social engagement capacity for humans is roughly:

  • 1,500 faces that we can match to names
  • 500 acquaintances
  • 150 casual friends (i.e., people who might come to your wedding or funeral)
  • 50 buddies
  • 15 good friends
  • 5 within a circle of trust
  • 5 very close friends

This capacity is limited, Dunbar believes, because it is a function of brain size, which hasn’t changed in modern times. And since our time is also limited, he suggests that the more time we spend on social media tracking acquaintances the less time we have to invest in “more meaningful” relationships.

Interesting. But I don’t entirely buy it. Yes, “tracking” acquaintances is not meaningful. But there are other things you can do on the web. You can ask questions – important personal questions. And you can answer the same. Intimate and personal conversations can be had. With some of my friends and relatives, the communication is better and deeper in print.

In short, meaningful time is determined by the content of the communication, not by the media in which it is conveyed.

Still, when you are in the actual presence of a friend or colleague, why not take advantage of the time you have with him/her to speak, to look, to see, and to touch?


Today’s Word: bedizened (adjective)

Something that’s bedizened (buh-DIZE-und) is overly decorated in a flashy, tasteless way. As used by Maya Angelou in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: “Dolores flitted around the car, screaming like a banshee, her face bedizened with fury.”


Fun Fact

Ingrown toe nails are hereditary.


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket:

Football, Jiu Jitsu, and Force*

I played football in high school. I wasn’t a natural athlete, but I was quick and aggressive. I wasn’t an A-level player, but I was a starter as a guard and linebacker for three years. And when it came to drills like Bull in the Ring (a Sumo-like drill) that involved aggression, none of the other players, even the guys who outweighed me by 50 pounds, could push me out.

Someone told me that Coach Caproni once said, “I want players like Ford, who don’t want to run around their opponents but run through them.”

That was the idea I had about sports in general. That to be a better player, you had to work harder and be more aggressive than anyone else. My motto was: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I maintained this idea about sports for most of my life. I was the guy no one wanted to go up against in basketball. Not because I was any good at it, but because I might knock you down or elbow you in the head.

And for a number of years into my business career I was motivated by the same philosophy.

It worked, but only to a point. Eventually, my progress in advancing my power (and compensation) would level out.

In my mid-forties, I was lucky enough to become partners with someone that had a very different view. He was intelligent and incisive, but soft-spoken. He never raised his voice, He never bullied anyone. He never insisted that his employees do their work hisway.

The combination worked. His approach softened mine and I like to think that mine toughened his a bit. Our business grew tenfold once I realized that we could do better by being gentle most of the time and tough only when necessary.

This transformation happened at the same time I took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

When I began, my “game” was all about speed and force. This approach took me from white belt to blue belt and finally to purple belt. I was stuck there for many years, and would be a purple belt still had I not I finally accepted the truth: Although gentleness isn’t all of it, it is 90% of Jiu Jitsu.

Once I gave up on force and began to train gently, my game began to grow again. I no longer struggled to win every match. I learned to think of my opponent as a training partner, someone whose skill and athletic abilities could teach me how to get better.

I became very competitive at the purple belt level and went on to earn my brown belt and finally my black belt. I even won a few regional and national competitions against men that were 10 and 20 years younger than I.

In learning the art of Jiu Jitsu, the ambitious beginner is eager to develop his speed and force. He has been taught by coaches in other complex sports that the best athlete is the one who is quickest and strongest. Thus, he trains aggressively.

As he learns new techniques, he is able to defeat equally skillful grapplers with his superior speed and strength. These wins give him confidence.

Then he is invited to test himself against a higher-ranking opponent and is chagrined to discover that his speed and power is not sufficient – even when he is faster and stronger than the opponent.

He asks the master for help, and the master’s suggestion is to grapple more slowly and use less force. He tries. But the moment he feels that a match is going against him, he reverts to panic-driven force.

He wonders why the master, a man old enough to be his grandfather, can train for 30 or 40 minutes with a series of partners without breaking a sweat or even breathing hard. The master, of course, has already given him the answer.

To be a true martial artist, you must master two contrary instincts: the impulse to use force and the trust in yielding. You must know that when your opponent pushes, you should not push back but redirect his force to your advantage, The more force your opponent uses, the easier it will be for you to defeat him.

Thinking back on my football career, I realize that Coach Caproni was teaching me the wrong lessons. He recognized that I was naturally aggressive, and he encouraged me to be even more aggressive. I’m sure I would have been a much better football player had I understood more about the art of yielding rather than pushing back.

Force is contraction. Yielding is expansion. The question is: When should we allow ourselves to contract… and when should we allow ourselves to expand?

From our discussion so far, we know that the answer will be relative. Relative to the energetic state of the individual consciousness at the moment and the object of its focus.

There is “a time for every purpose,” Ecclesiastes tells us. “A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.” In life, there is a time to concentrate and a time to expand. Living a fully conscious life must include an understanding of when to do each.

* In this series of essays, which hopes to become a book, I’m exploring an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time — that our knowledge of the universe and our experience of living can be understood by the metaphor of pulsation – of contraction and relaxation – and that such an understanding might helpful in succeeding in life and accepting death.


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