The Secrets to Making Friends and Influencing People

This is part of my ongoing series of posts related to Secrets of Adulthood, inspired by Gretchin Rubin’s book “The Happiness Project”

Quite a few of my Secrets revolve around better people relations.  That’s not so surprising considering community, hospitality, and connection are important things to me and most others.  Moreover, it’s impossible to do any of those without other people.  Yet, I’ve got a set of personality quirks that frequently impair my ability to connect with others. To combat these, there are three Secrets I know, but that are more aspirational than they are achieved.

The best thing you can do to be friendly is say “Hi.”

I’m a New Englander, personality-wise as well as locale; and though some tests have labeled me an extrovert, that doesn’t mean that while walking down the sidewalk I’m high-fiving others, grinning from ear to ear, and stopping to remark on the weather.  In fact, most of the time when I walk into a place I like to observe what everyone else is doing and then follow suit.  On the streets, I like to look to the ground and find I’m most confident in sunglasses unable to make eye contact.  However, I’ve noticed that to get more out of every situation in life (more information, friends, and laughter) the first step is simply to say “Hi.”  It’s an easy way to convey approachability and camaraderie.  But oh, it’s so HARD!  What I often want most is to avoid embaressing myself, or being trapped in what could potentially be an awkward conversation.  However, I also don’t want to appear aloof.  So, I know what I should do, and what will satisfy me in the long run, is simply to say Hi.

If you want to feel connected, Talk More.

Though there are plenty of situations when “Hi” and “Bye” are really all you need, there are others where I know I can do better.  In this regard I once remarked to a friend “I wish I could go through life just a little bit drunk.”  I’m far from an alcoholic, but it’s no mistake that they call alcohol liquid courage. There are plenty of tips I’ve read about making conversation, but when it comes right down to doing it, it isn’t really knowledge that helps, it’s just action.  Whether you start with the weather, the latest sensational story, or divulge some personal information is of course, your own preference.  I’ve noticed in my informal observations though, that people who are willing to confess a personal foible, or tell a funny personal anecdote are more likely to end up with friends.

Try to Invite a Friend

Finally, like many others I’m fiercely independent and want to do activities on my own timetable.  I also believe strongly in my own schedules, and ability to determine what is the most “important” thing I need to be doing.  Sure, I may be productive (at times) but the downside is I’m likely to ignore or devalue spontaneous interaction.  It takes a good minute sometimes for me to remember that building community (and memories) pays off in the long run.   I need to take time to invite a friend with me when I’m going somewhere, likely to do a craft, or just watch a TV program.  This is pretty much that sage business advice “Never Eat Lunch Alone” dressed up for the rest of your life.  And the truth is, more often than not I’m sure people skip lunch, work through lunch, or catch up on internet gossip during lunch.  I’m the same way when it comes to going to events.  I see them, I make plans to go, and then I either attend, or I chicken out.  But, this whole process could (and is) greatly enhanced when I do things with others.  First the anticipation is extended, second the experience makes more neural pathways in my brain strengthening the memory.  (Okay, I made up that last part, but it might be true, right?)

These are three things I know make life better, but I’m still trying to do them every time.   What are you thoughts on these Secrets?

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Starring in the Sick Role in New England

Last Wednesday I woke up with chills, a fever, a sinus headache and the ability to pull a mere wisp of Oxygen through nasal passages where Mucus-guy had taken up residence.   That’s right I had the flu.  I’m always pleased with my body’s ability to evict this temporary resident within three to five business days, but while he was living there, I simply let him storm around.   I gave him no mental fodder and I think he got bored.  Since he’s left however, I’ve learned a great deal about the role of Sickness in normal life, since my reading projects have put me into contact with Talcott Parsons, American Sociologist.

Parsons walked a tightrope in much of his societal analysis between materialism and idealism, which is (despite being a tightrope) a well trod path by many people.  However, because of my recent starring role in the dramatization of “Uncle Flu comes to Visit”, I was mostly interested in this idea of a Sick Role.  Parsons, in 1951, theorized that the actor in the drama has a number of rights and obligations.  She has the right to be exempt from normal social roles, and is not responsible for her sickness.  She also has the obligation to try and get well, and to seek competent medical health.  So there you have it, I wasn’t held accountable for my inability to remember even the simplest concepts proposed in my Anatomy Class, wasn’t required to sit through a whole sermon at church, and couldn’t call the post office yet again about the package they lost of mine. It’s pretty fortuitous that I wasn’t required to do this, because, due to those achy bones and the coughing, I couldn’t rise from the couch.

During the winter time in New England, it seems expected that sickness will invade a person’s life and create this hallowed and accepted deviance.   It’s also assumed that competent medical help and attempts to recover are  warm soups, pain reliever medicines, Robitussin, and a variety of other over-the-counter medications and rest.  However because of these assumptions, in New England there is a pervasive inability to continue dialogue with quite a number of members of society due to sickness and withdrawal.  There is something of an unresolved tension here as people involuntarily remove themselves from the work force, the church sanctuary, and robust debate of ideas.  If anything it contributes to the already much dreaded Seasonal Affectedness Disorder, which is a Sick Role as well.  What can be done?

I’m sure there isn’t a simple answer here to this wintertime breakdown of social relations in New England, and therefore I’m unable to provide a pithy conclusion to this blog post.  However, perhaps there’s something missing from the rights and obligations of the Sick Role.  Or perhaps there’s more to the rights of obligations of the un-mentioned Healthy Role.

Pumpkin Farming and Community

I have been busy the last three days hauling roughly 2000 ripe pumpkins with a cadre of international friends and learning how to make tofu from soy beans.  That, and reading The Small-Mart Revolution (by Michael H. Shuman).  Maybe you aren’t aware of this, but pumpkin picking, piling, wiping, and moving is repetitive, mindless work.  Since it took a total of 8 – 10 hours to complete a 4 acre field, I have also had time to formulate how best to sum up this book for the discerning community participant, which is y.o.u.  What follows are several “what you can do” points from the book (and more can be found here), a whirlwind of Massachusetts local information on farming and food, and some observations and ideas on retail and community living in Beverly.

Luckily for all of us, Shuman does not feel the need to start his book with a reiteration of WalMart as the anti-christ/devil incarnate.  (I usually put down books which waste ink, paper, and brain cells on repetitive diatribes without solutions.  Half this book is dedicated to solutions.)  As Shuman himself points out on page 7; the point of a Revolution is to “improve prosperity of every community…by maximizing opportunities for locally owned businesses… which is half the typical economy.” He also provides a statistic on page 43 that this half of the economy also provides “at least 58 percent” of jobs. (p. 43)

Jobs which are not place-based, and largely non-locally owned (ie: Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon) leech from the community (best approximated by tax jurisdiction) money which could be spent improving the community. (p. 40)  They are also plied with incentives from community builders that usually destroy locally owned (ie: mom and pop) shops.  Then he describes an interesting term I hadn’t heard before: “multiplier.”  He writes, “Each purchase you make triggers purchases by others.  For instance, a dollar spend on rent might be spent again by your property owner at your local grocer, who in turn pays an employee, who then buys a movie ticket.”  This is a multiplier, how many times the dollar is used in the community.  He says, the best thing you can do, is keep your money local.  He cites a study of “leakage” of dollars in Austin, TX. which notes that of 100 dollars spent at Borders 13 circulate back into the local community, of 100 dollars spent at 2 local book stores, 45 circulate back into the community.  The more times the money circulates, the more tax revenue it generates.  (Also, you can view the study on this blog/website.)

Then he gives Massachusetts residents a kick in the pants about purchasing things in Tax Free New Hampshire.

That, friends, is the book in a nutshell.  It’s chock full of other case studies about big vs. small business, incentives the government provides to big businesses, and how diversification is best for an area, and as previously mentioned also full of five chapters of how y.o.u can make a difference.

A riddle posed at most farms, and among most foodies I’ve lived with and talked with can be summarized like so, “How come we’re buying apples from New York (Washington, Nova Scotia, Vancouver…etc) when we grow apples right here in Massachusetts (list other places here.) and they’re buying our apples.”  To this, Shuman proposes a little slogan that’s been kicking around for awhile. “Local First.”

“Local First” says, if you can, choose to buy your apples from a local source (perhaps one of the farms the Massachusetts government lists on their website here. Or one the Food Project so kindly provides a link to here.)  And if you can, choose to buy your beer from a local source.  And if you can, choose to eat out at a locally owned restaurant.  And if you can, choose to entertain yourself with a local band.  But here I am, just listing off to you half a dozen links I know of, and you probably can’t click them all.  But if you do get the time, click of them, and this other project that is really taking off called the 3/50 project.

Finally, since I spent 20 months in downtown Beverly without a car and had plenty of time to walk around Rantoul and Cabot streets in all kind of weather, I humbly propose that there are still several businesses missing from downtown that could round out the Beverly Main Streets. (Actually, I’m sure there are dozens, but these are the items that took the most hassle to get without a car.)

1. A shoe store.  2.  A book store (if you are going to forgo Amazon.com, or even just for the atmosphere) 3. Non-used clothing.  (I’ll be honest, thrifted socks aren’t appealing to me.) 4.  Home Goods (shelving, dishes, curtains, towels and the like.  It’s either Family Dollar or the Antique Shop.) 5.  A real honest bakery with bread.  I love pies and pastries too of course, but a good loaf of bread was hard to come by.  (sorry Stop and Shop, and Cassis.)

And, I will leave you with one last great idea to support local business in Beverly (and the North Shore).  The BevCard. which is like a insider SamsClub type card providing you with deals and discounts to different shops and services.  I think this is a fantastic idea, even better than the Beverly Main Streets coupon book, but hopefully would work in tandem too.  I hope that in the next few years it will be able to provide many more links between businesses and that people will rush to be part of a great network.