BL&T No. 088: Common Ground & Connection

Personal Growth

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"In one well-known study, a group of psychologists asked people living in the Dyckman public housing project in northern Manhattan to name their closest friend in the project; 88 percent of the friends lived in the same building, and half lived on the same floor. In general, people chose friends of similar age and race. But if the friend lived down the hall, then age and race became a lot less important. Proximity overpowered similarity."

From "The Tipping Point" by Malcom Gladwell [Book]


I spent the weekend visiting Dana's parents in Millsboro, Delaware (think Delaware beaches). We drove in on Friday through dense fog and woke up to scattered rain on Saturday, but we were lucky to steal some warm, sunny weather later on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Where are you Spring? It was a relaxing couple of days away. Now and then, it's nice to go someplace with no obligations and an openness to see how the day takes shape.

A fun aspect of this trip was bringing along our (almost) 5-month-old pup, Gizmo. We'll never really know if Gizmo enjoys these adventures, but lately, he's been jumping in his carrier as we prepare to leave the house. We'll take that as a sign that he does!

There's a lot I've learned since becoming a pup owner, and at some point, I'll probably write that essay. For now, what's been on my mind is how Gizmo has inadvertently brought us closer to our community. And people, in general.

Whether we're walking Gizmo in my in-law's neighborhood, on a nearby nature path, or through the streets of Doylestown, we seem to meet someone new at every turn. The interaction typically starts with "Aw, can I pet your dog?" or "Look at that little dog! What type of breed is he?" and soon becomes personal.

On one occasion, we met a nearby neighbor who has commuted to NYC for the last 20 or so years. On another, we spent 15 minutes chatting with a stranger about how positively their dog has impacted their life and family. Sometimes, the person has a dog with them. Other times, they don't, like the group of kid siblings who plopped down on the sidewalk outside the local library as Gizmo jumped from lap to lap.

I've loved seeing Gizmo bring joy to random people out in the world, but what I've found fascinating is that we wouldn't have interacted with any of these people without him.

It can be a challenge to make friends and grow our social circle as adults. We feel awkward approaching someone we don't know at events or asking a new acquaintance to have coffee. We feel uncomfortable putting ourselves out there. And yet, when you have a dog, something changes. Why? We know we have common ground and think nothing of saying hello, even to someone twice our age in a different part of town.

Common ground opens the doors for comfortable discovery. It's a stepping stone toward engaging with others.

Gizmo has shown me that many of us are looking to connect with our neighbors; we just don't know where to start. In that way, he's reminded me to embrace the serendipitous moments in life. You never know where a simple smile or hello can go.

Here's Dana's favorite photo from the weekend. Gizmo galloping across the sand with me on his first trip to the beach:

Now, let's get into some insights from last week:

Thought Starter

In what circles have I held back from putting myself out there? How might my experience change with a simple hello?

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