So, when I came back from Asia and took an emergency position at an East Bay high school, I thought I fell right back into the swing of things. Seriously. I made friends with my coworkers (at least with the ones I was drawn to) and got back into the American-style of chit chattiness that is somehow required whenever more than one adult human is in the proximity of another. I remember when I first got to Hong Kong being really surprised at the absence of said chit-chat. In shops, restaurants, any sort of service… the chit-chat was absent. I thought it was weird.
But apparently I really got on board.
This became apparent when my vertically challenged, middle-aged principle told me one of the reasons that he would not be renewing my contract was that I just didn’t seem to make a good enough effort to get along with my coworkers. [An aside: no fewer than a dozen of my non-friend-coworkers were shocked to hear this... many of whom are still very much in my social circle today.]
Huh. Well, that’s odd, I thought.
And then today in a conversation with a new colleague at my current school, he said he thought I sometimes give off an unapproachable vibe.
I thought back on this. Unapproachable? My life seems ridiculously full of amazing people. I wonder if they find me unapproachable. I suddenly recalled a friend I worked with at Incline High School for years who said she was always surprised how stand-offish I was, why don’t you want to make friends? she had asked. At the time I answered that I thought my persona was a great filter… anyone who felt like fighting through it was worth my time.
But I didn’t really mean that . What I would have said if I had been being honest was that there are only so many people who I am actually interested in. Seriously. But one can’t say that because that is just “rude.”
If being friendly and approachable means that you have to chit-chat all the time, I am realizing that I am just way more Hong Kong than I ever knew. Life is busy and full, and my brain is even more busy and full. If I am giving you time in my brain, you can be sure that I really want you to be occupying that time and space.
And time and space in our dimension is limited. That is a fact.
A while back I wrote about Dunbar’s Number. I had been thinking about it a lot in the context of social networking and the reality that having like 1,437 friends on Facebook just could not serve anyone. Basically the premise is that, scientifically, there is a limit to the number of people with whom we can maintain stable relationships. And really, would you want any other kind of relationship? And rereading that blog post (it is a good one!) I still stand firmly behind all of the sentiments therein.
Today as I revisited the ideas around Dunbar, it dawned on me, as a teacher in a huge comprehensive public high school where I deal with no fewer than 100 teenagers every single day of my life, and as a truly fortunate member of a really dynamic and far-reaching family (and extended family), and a person who feels blessed every single day of my life for the fascinating tapestry of friends I have from 1972 to now, from Petaluma to Guadalajara to Hong Kong to London to NYC to Dubai to Bali to LA… there’s only so much people juice I have left to share with people in my day-to-day.
It may seem bitchy (would certainly not be the first time that has been said about me) but I’m just being real. It is easy to be kind to people you come across in your day-to-day – and in fact I think it is kind of an imperative – but I fundamentally disagree that there is some sort of requirement that being in the same time/place/profession as someone else somehow creates a requirement of friendship. Professionalism? You bet. Support? Abso-freaking-lutely. But friendship? A willingness to share precious time and often fragile feelings or sensitive opinions? Nope, that is not a free for all in my reality.
If I am rude (and I certainly have been), call me on it. If I am unprofessional (sadly, this too has happened once or twice), let me know. If I break a rule, disregard protocol, or am straight up cruel (far less likely, though I would not rule it out), get in my face.
But tell me I need to be friends with everyone? That I need to share my time and life energy with people just because?
I cannot agree to that condition.
If I have a far away look on my face it is because I am probably somewhere far away – thinking of the millions of things I want/have/need to do. And that is okay. If it looks like I don’t see you – ask yourself, is she wearing her glasses? If the answer is no, then I do not see you. I am a good judge of people – and I know – often very early on – if I will be friends with people (and FYI, I am a really good friend, references on request) and if we are not friends, it is not you, it is not me, it just is.
Or my bitchy resting face.