Strength in weakness

Before moving home to Michigan, my husband and I lived in Highland Park, IL. I worked only five blocks from where we lived, so I walked to work every day. My route took me through the park where I also walked our dog. Lila liked to stroll, so I would return to the park alone for a more quickly paced fitness walk. Because I used the park daily and at somewhat regular times, I started seeing the same people day after day. Often, we would only smile and greet each other. If we were both walking dogs, we might pause, share our pets’ names and let them socialize. A few of the regulars people I got to know fairly well – discovering who was remodeling their kitchen or to what college their child had been accepted. Sometimes, they would not appear for a while, and I would miss seeing them. When our move from Highland Park became imminent, I took care to tell some key people that I would soon be disappearing from the park scene. I didn’t want anyone to expect me to return or worry when I didn’t.

Before we moved, someone asked me what I was going to miss about the city and I said, “The sidewalks.” I thought what I was going to miss was the convenience of paved, cleared walkways, which was true, to a point. I also missed seeing all my park people.

Now I live on a beautiful piece of property on which I can walk, but I don’t. Depending on the season, I have to contend with mud or snow or bugs. My new little dog doesn’t like to go for what she calls “pointless” walks. I live too far from work to walk there, but once I arrive there are many lovey places to find fresh air and exercise – a river walk, city, county or township parks and any number of trails – but I don’t. Building back the habit of walking away from the office for a break is a discipline I have yet to master. Once I do, I expect I will run into people; if not, no matter. I will see you somewhere else – at church or at school; at the fairgrounds or the park; at an event or a meeting. When you are a reporter, life is filled with opportunities to make weak ties.

There is some research around the importance of weak ties – the brief or chance social interactions we experience day-to-day. As I was driving to the office one day, I heard a story about psychologist Gillian Sandstrom, who conducted an experiment to see if people who had micro encounters with people they didn’t know, or didn’t know well, were happier than those who only encountered the strong ties of family, friends and co-workers.

Don’t take the term “weak” in the wrong way. The weak ties we make every day are important and make us strong. If you aren’t experiencing many brief social encounters of now, cultivate them. A smile and a greeting, or a few words with the person waiting in line with you at the store can make your day. It will help the other person as well, and likely those who witness the friendly exchange. It might even give them the courage to strengthen their own weak ties. Some of the weak ties may become strong ties. But don’t worry – the chance encounters will never end.