The people we don’t know we have

joinedbyropeI went on a walk the other day with an old schoolfriend. It was really enjoyable.

It lasted two and a half hours, and as we strolled along the side of the River Mersey, we discussed all manner of wonderful topics, including friendship itself.

I shared my recurring feelings of being an outsider. He seemed nonplussed. He told me he didn’t get that because, he said, I connect with people effortlessly.

It reminded me of another time when I told a different friend that I felt like an outsider. Her response was an incredulous “What? YOU??”

I am comforted by these responses as it suggests that in the eyes of others I’m not an outsider at all. And of course, it is others who get to decide.

A couple of years ago I began attaching myself to what I term “helpful beliefs.”

So, instead of believing “these people will think I’m a nob”, it’s more helpful to believe “these people are going to really like me.”

So I do my best to act as if it were true.

Who knows which one is true (without an independent survey).

But if I’m going to engage with fiction and guesswork, I may as well choose a fiction that serves me rather than one that crushes me.

To counter the outsider feelings, another such helpful fiction was to believe that I am at the centre of the circle in any group, not on the outside. It’s reassuring to hear that others are, in reality, viewing me the same as my helpful belief.

Yet, this doesn’t really go to the heart of what I mean when I discuss friendship.

“Yes”, I say in response, “I do have lots of people around me…..” (I struggled how best to get my point across) “…..but I don’t have anyone I can phone in a crisis at half three in the morning.”

He looked at me as we walked with a puzzled face.

“Well, you can phone me!” he said.

“I can?”

“Yes. Of course you can.”


Thinking about this, I recall another time when someone (not related) told me that if they win the lottery, they will be buying me a house!

I know they meant it, and I cheer their numbers on every Saturday!!

But that surprised me too.



It got me to thinking. When I say that I don’t have anyone, perhaps the truth is that I do have them, but I just don’t know I have them. And I wonder how common this is for us all.

I view myself connected to others by the flimsiest of threads.

Yet to them, I am connected by a rope.

I just hadn’t realised it.


  1. bill ball - January 21, 2014 @ 11:07 am

    I think that the point is that modern society contributes to making us all outsiders.

    We can live in tower blocks & not know the names of our neighbours as we did when we lived in back-to -back terraces.

    We can have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, whom we will never actually met or have a pint with.

    If we become unemployed, we are isolated from the day we sign on.

    There are few jobs for life these days. No longer do generations go down the pits or work in steel mills. Communities grew up around work. When the work goes, a community dies. It becomes transient, itenerant. People move on. The roots that we have put down are pulled out.

    So perhaps you thinking is conditioned by the society in which you live. But the other side of the coin, as you have illustrated, is that by changing our perceptions of the world, we begin to change the world itself.

  2. alunparry - January 21, 2014 @ 11:56 am

    I think you make some great points there Bill. There is certainly a loss of community hubs. I remember doing a film project with Liverpool seniors who were talking about life here in the 50s.

    It was clear from their discussions just how well everyone knew each other, and how their workplaces were a form of connection.

    After saying that, I know from my own experience that being surrounded by people is only half of it.

    It doesn’t mean that we then transform those people into genuine close connection. That often comes down to our own psychological stuff and our sense of self.

    I know that in my case, even though I’m freelance, I’m surrounded by people.

    But I’ve always assumed that the thing connecting us was a thread rather than a rope and so I’ve never felt comfortable giving it a tug to bring them closer.

    The disconnection of modern life is something I missed in my post, and I’m glad you raised it.

    But even if we were all more connected physically, and were in each other’s lives more, I know that many would still struggle to bring those people around them close.


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