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Social Savvy

Humans are undeniably social animals - even the most introverted among us - and it pays off to invest in ensuring you build a satisfying, loving, and dependable social network. Some people have a much harder time doing this than others, but your persistence will pay off. Here's some tips.

Where to begin?

To understand yourself and your needs, we need to start by taking a very large step back in time. Why? to understand how we evolved and developed socially in a historical context. It is within that context that our modern brains developed. When you know what we are best evolved to deal with, it clarifies what it is you probably need and seek in your social life.

What was a human social life like during most of the history of humanity? (in other words, for the last 2.5 million years before the present day). For one thing, you'd usually have only 9 to 23 individuals in your social circle, and that social circle was tight-knit and long-lived. Your closest ties were with your siblings, parents, mates, and clan or village. Most never left their territory their entire lives and relied heavily on one another. Elder wisdom was valued, as writing did not exist - everything from herbal wisdom to winter migration paths had to be remembered and passed down using word-of-mouth or paintings. Multiple wives were common, polygamy was common, homosexuality was common, and so was monogamy - sexual unions really depended on the society.

In most societies, your family line and name was passed down from your father's side (paternal), but some were passed by the mother (maternal). Tracing or naming after the mother's line, as is done by Native Americans, is more accurate, because while many men could potentially attempt to impregnate a woman, and the father can never be certain, only one woman can ever be your biological mother.

Marriage at puberty or in the mid teen years has been considered normal through most of recorded history - typically 14 to 16. A woman reaches peak fertility at age 22. Women, living in such tight knit and extremely interdependent social groups, often shared in the rearing and even breastfeeding of children. Although it may seem foreign to modern Westerners, this is still very common in the third world, such as Africa. People had many children because many of them would die due to infectious diseases and injury. As recently as 100 years ago nearly half of all children born in developed societies like England died! These days, few children and babies die, so people don't need to give birth to as many any more.

Markets, trading, and bartering was very important through much of history, and the importance of trade has grown substantially with time as humans have become more mobile. Work and industry has always been a part of human life, though through most of history the product often went no further than yourself, your social circle, or village. These days the market is global and the Internet its bloodstream, offering individuals many more opportunities to trade without their profits being skimmed by middlemen.

In the past, virtually all human celebrations and holidays centered around cyclical things in nature, or celebrating and encouraging essential fertility. Modern, newer religious holidays have been layered on top of those ancient aboriginal and pagan ones:

  • The position of the sun in the sky during the year (solstices, equinoxes - now known by many as Easter, Christmas, etc)
  • Phases of the moon
  • celebrating sexuality/fertility/marriage
  • Noting the passing of the seasons and the associated bountiful hunting times, such as the early Fall
  • A combination of the above (i.e. Harvest moon)

Putting it all in today's context

Obviously society has changed drastically in the past few hundred years, and the past 150 in particular for developed Western countries. It has been challenging for many to cope, and if you compare how we live now to how we lived through most of history, you can see why. It's a time of great change and increased mental demands (and distraction).

Taking into account the extended life expectancy, medical advances, and information overload of today's modern era, among other things, here are my suggestions for improving your social situation:

  • Focus on having the number of quality close relationships (9-23) that our brains are best adapted to having. Do not put a lot of effort into the rest or you'll stretch yourself too thin.
  • If you have too many shallow acquaintances instead of real friends, pick your favourite 10, and end as many as are necessary to keep your primary social circle to 25 or less, and work on building 3 to 5 VERY close friends (lifelong confidantes).
  • If you have too few friends, maintain them but actively find ways to gain a handful more in the next year or two, because you never know when one could move away or pass away. Set a target of making (and maintaining!) at least 2 new friends a year.
  • Always treat your close relatives well no matter how they treat you, unless what they are doing to you is illegal. Live by example!
  • Always look after your own basic needs before you look after others. If you don't put yourself first, it is unlikely anybody else will. This is not selfishness, it is reality.
  • A person is not balanced unless they also make a point to give and help others. It is also generally very attractive to others to see someone who makes the effort to look beyond themselves.
  • Be true to yourself - know what you need from other people, know what you can offer others, and don't compromise.
  • Work has always been a part of life. It makes a person feel useful. Find work that is fulfilling and suits you. If it does not pay as much as you'd like, but is something you love, reduce your expenses and live more frugally. It is better to do that than get paid a lot to spend hours a day doing something you hate or that kills your soul and is at odds with your values.
  • The world changes one person at a time. BE the change you want to see. Always lead by example. It has a domino effect, which you will soon notice!
  • Do not judge the family units and sexual lifestyles of others. As we approach extended lifespans and have fewer children and relatives, things will need to change.
  • You won't feel lost if you stay focused on what really matters in your life, and the people who matter.
  • There are many tools you can use to meet new people, but word of mouth, social hobbies, and online social sites (not the superficial ones like Twitter) tend to be very effective. Look for more substantive online sites such as hobby/interest communities or discussion forums to meet like minded individuals, before trying actual "friend finder" sites. See how it goes!
  • Online interaction is not a substitute for real life interaction, and often gives a skewed view of a person. Move valued friendships offline and into real life in a timely manner (within a month or so of corresponding regularly).
  • Always treat people with respect.
  • It is definitely better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Never give up... you'll get what you want in time!

If you take good care of yourself, lead by example, and try out some of the tips listed above, it is inevitable that you will be happy with your social life - or at least happier than you used to be! :)

Good luck!


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