Tag Archives: the need to belong

What is the radius of your social circle?

Just want to share this brilliant matemathical social life metaphor by Mathematician Cartoonist* Ben Orlin of Math with Bad Drawings, illustrating what a “social circle” looks like on paper.

Social circle Ben Orlin

I quite like the symbolism and its implications:

 
The social people

People who have large social circles, have plenty of space at their disposal inside their circle. It gives them flexibility, mobility and dynamism, and exposes them to the inputs and perspectives of different people (although people inside social circles tend to be somewhat culturally alike, or at least compatible).

People with large social circles can cover a lot of ground and have many resources of whatever they need within their circle. They know a tons of people who can tip them off to opportunities they hadn’t even thought of, connect them up with useful people, and explain the complicated political insider dynamics of specific social groups and organisation. Also, they’ll typically have had ample social skills practice for many years.

People with large social circles probably don’t need to venture out of their circles often, but due to their extensive practice in navigating social networks, may find it relatively easy to do so, or to expand or alter their circle when they need it.

 
Radius zero

In contrast, a social circle with a radius of zero is a small and inflexible space. It tends to be more static than dynamic, there aren’t many fresh inputs and blending of perspectives, and not many opportunities dropping by. Outings are lone expeditions, like walking around in a circle, meeting no one, and ending back at start. The boundary is uncomfortably close, like right outside the window, exposing the loneliness to random strangers if the pay attention (they usually don’t).

Loneliness is seen as a mark of dysfunction in society. It signals that “This person is not good enough for anyone in the world”. So a social circle with a radius of Zero has a stigma attached to it, casting a shadow over it.
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Songs of the Gorilla Nation: a Book Review

Songs of the Gorilla NationSongs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars ★★★★★

I found it almost impossible to review this book straight away, because there aspects of it I strongly dislike and aspects that I find very valuable.

I think it is an important book: It gives a great glimpse into one person’s reality of coming of age with undefined high functioning autism. Most importantly, it describes a strategy for overcoming autistic isolation. Not a cure but a way to kick start the positive feedback loop of social relationships that social learning requires in order to happen.

Dawn is a gifted writer, and the book has brilliant passages and good integrity. Its structure is meaningful, organised into 3 sections:

Part 1. Dawn’s childhood and youth history growing up with undiagnosed autism, knowing something is wrong with her socially, but unable to figure out what it is. She is severely bullied and drops out of school, becomes homeless and hungry, and later finds a way to make a living as an erotic dancer. The roots of her passion for primates is her childhood fascination with ancient humans; and that fascination runs through her life story as a sub-surface theme waiting to unfold.

Part 2: Dawn discovers the gorillas. She is lucky and gets a job in the zoo, and gets more and more involved with the gorilla family. They become her family, and she learns social skills by observing and interacting with them

Part 3: Dawn’s life post-zoo, with the social skills she learned from the gorillas. She establishes a family, works through relationship problems, discovers the name of her condition and gets a diagnosis, gets on meds, and makes her special interest into her study direction and career.
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A Circle of Friends

Many TV series, books and movies feature cute and fun everyday dramas of a circle of friends. For example TV series like Beverly Hill 90210, Friends, Ally, and The Big Bang Theory.

 

 
I’m not sure how realistically they portray how it works, but a circle of friends seems like a common expectation for a normal social life. For me, that expectation has caused a lot of agony in the past which still lurk somewhere in the fringes, saying your life is not good enough.

 
What a Circle of Friends Is

My understanding of a circle of friends is a group of friends who all know each other well and typically have known each other for a long time; so they are a bit like a sort of family but not usually family. They are usually within the same age range and socio-economic segment. They hang out together often, maybe almost every day, in regular rendezvous locations such as a specific sofa set-up in a cafe or shared flat. They have shared habits, rituals and history together and know what to expect from each other.

A circle of friends typically comprises 3 to 8 members, who may not all go perfectly well along. Just like in a family, members have to be tolerant of each other across even seemingly incompatible differences and find diplomatic ways to cope with incompatibilities. Contained friction is OK (and fictive contained friction tends to be hilarious). Open serious conflicts and exclusions are not OK, since that would tear apart the group.

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