Our casual acquaintances might matter more than we think:
The people we take for granted like our car mechanic, the bakery clerk and the fellow dog-walkers at the park, are actually more important people in our lives than we may imagine. Their presence provides meaning, comfort and social connection and exposes us to new and interesting perspectives. When we get sick or lonely, they are likely to be there to help in valuable ways. And when we are looking for a job, our casual acquaintances are often more helpful than close friends and co-workers.
It started with the concept of “weak ties:”
Much of it began in 1973, when sociologist Mark Granovetter developed the idea of “the strength of weak ties.” “Weak relationships” are more consequential than we may think, argues Granovetter, because they tend to open up worlds that lie beyond our immediate, familiar circles. So, for example, our seventh- and eighth-best friends are more likely to be connected to other networks of interesting people than our close friends. Such people act as social bridges to novel worlds that are relatively unknown to us. As weak links, they expand our sense of ourselves and the world in unexpected, serendipitous ways.
The marginal space between connections, the ability to maintain varying levels of connections — choosing strength based on conversations of dog walks, train traffic, bagel favorites — is mostly the reason I adore cities. It’s all of the reason the stoop is my most sought-after place for holding casual conversations.