I consider myself a sociable person. Studying drama and working in radio and television broadcasting pushed me to get over the shyness I had as a child. As a Christian minister, my pastoral responsibilities continue to encourage me to engage with people from all walks of life. I enjoy being part of an extended family, although my wife once commented that if I had my way my extended family would include, at the very least, everyone in Fiji.
Almost everyone has their “gang” or perhaps their “gangs”. There’s the “grog gang”, the “touch rugby (or some other sport gang),” the “gang from church (or the ‘mandli’ or mosque),” the “gang from work,” the “ex-scholars/old boys/ old girls gang”, the “gang you grew up with,” even the “gang from the garage,” as well as the “charity/social work gang” and of course, the “gang from the village”. The list goes on. The broader and more colourful your life and work experiences, the more diverse your groups may be.
These days the word “network” is commonly used to refer to “an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.”
One of the difficulties I faced while living and studying in South Korea was the issue of language. That was to be expected and I did learn enough of the Korean language “Hangumal” (although my children seem to have taught themselves more) to survive for the better part of two years and sing the Lord’s Prayer in another language. What I had not expected was the limitation of not being able to fully converse in another language meant that there were not many groups in my university and church communities with whom I could talanoa with.
I had many friends and we could “hang out” and do things together but real conversation, talanoa was a long and difficult process, especially for the translator. As a result I had to get used to only having a smaller circle of friends and shift from group talanoa to one-on-one conversations.
Even if conversations would start off very casually and shallow, as time went on the conversations would become more serious and deep. Without the group around my friend and I could really share our thoughts, our hopes and fears, joys and sorrows with each other.
For a communal society such as ours, one-on-one conversations are very important in helping us to really understand one another. For example, in terms of parent and child relationships, one-on-one time helps children to feel both connected to the family as a whole, but also to each parent in their own way. In the same way, while you may have a good relationship with the group as a whole, taking the time to have one-on-one conversations with those in the group creates connections between the group members and strengthens the group as well.
The one-on-one connection in friendships is an important part of mental health.
According to the Mental Health Foundation (UK), “Our friendships are among the most valuable relationships we have. We gain in various ways from different friendships. We may talk to friends in confidence about things we wouldn’t discuss with our families. Our friends may annoy us, but they can also keep us going.”
“Friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health. We need to talk to our friends and we want to listen when our friends want to talk to us. Our friends can keep us grounded and can help us get things in perspective. It is worth putting effort into maintaining our friendships and making new friends. Friends form one of the foundations of our ability to cope with the problems that life throws at us.”
Of course, deep and meaningful conversations call for real listening and honest sharing, which is not always easy. It is also something that needs time. However when we make the time and effort to have those conversations, we make a real connection with the other and the “net” or circle of friends or colleagues is made stronger.
Last week I was having a casual online chat with one of my friends in Korea. All of a sudden he switched from typing to voice chat so he could “really talk” with me. Half an hour later when the chat was over, I felt close to him, even though he was thousands of kilometres away from me. In that time he had shared deeply and openly with me. I hope I did the same.
As the western concept of time permeates our society and replaces our “Fiji Time,” we are in danger of losing not only the time and space for these deeper conversations but also the value for them. In the rush for information and the increasing need for entertainment value in our conversations, let us not forget to allow and use the opportunities for our hearts and souls to speak to each other.
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”