Six Degrees…

“Networking” is a concept I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.  Who’s in your Network?  We all know by now–even if we don’t often admit it–that WHO you know really is often more important than WHAT you know…at least in terms of “getting ahead,” or “getting a leg up,” or however we want to talk about the advantages that some people can help us get to put us one step ahead of the “talent pool.”

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the inverse of our “Networks.”  I don’t even know if there’s a word for it, but a network is a system, it’s a bunch of entities connected by various forces that push and pull and hold the whole thing together.  We’re all familiar with the concept of “networking,” but we don’t often name the truth that the act of purposefully pursuing certain people means that we ignore EVERYBODY else.  Who’s in your Network?  What is your relationship to the vast majority of the world that is not on that list?

For people of privilege, this is not a tiny question.  We get to choose who we associate with, and that is a choice that completely affects ALL other choices.  Who you choose to surround yourself with determines your priorities (think college students vs. young parents), it determines how you spend your time and money (think Yacht Club vs. Occupy), it determines what parts of the world, and what world issues you hear about and become concerned with (think Bullying at Your Kid’s School vs. Genocides in Sub-Saharan Africa).  It’s not up to me to determine which of these things are more important than the others, and the hard truth of our 21st Century lives is that being a responsible citizen means honoring and balancing ALL of these issues simultaneously.  The choices we make every day about how to heat our house or how to get to the grocery store have real effects on actual people and legitimate communities ALL AROUND the Globe.  We tend to care most about the things that are immediately within our immediate environment, but the truth is our circle of influence is much, much greater and much, much more inclusive than the network of relationships we actually spend our time thinking about.

I’ve always thought of myself as Upper-Middle Class, although as it turns out I actually just grew up in the Upper end of the Lower Middle Class demographic.  We lived in a poor neighborhood, I went to school with poor kids, there wasn’t a lot of violent gang activity in my town but the little that there was happened in my neighborhood.  We were kids raising ourselves while our parents worked…and it’s only recently that I’ve really learned to appreciate that the people in my “Network,” the people who I spend most of my time living and working with…they didn’t grow up this way.  I’ve always thought of myself as white, strait, male…and all these things are true, and they’re all important, but…I’ve recently realized that there’s a pretty wide gap between me, my experiences, the people I think of as family and friends, the people I include in my community, and the vast majority of White, Privileged America.  I’m definitely in that Network, but…I’m on the fringes.  Which means that people who aren’t me, people who are more poor, less educated, not white, not strait not male…they are even further afield from this network of influence.

This has become an important idea for me to wrestle with and make sense of, because it’s really easy to try to “demonize” the “other side.”  It’s easy for me to look at people who don’t care about what I care about, or who don’t think the way I think, and think nasty things about them and write them off as “inconsiderate.”  But that’s not fair.  It’s not fair AND it’s not true.  The vast majority of people care deeply and intensely about the world around them.  It’s just that some people have a more narrow view of the world, of the networks of relationships that are important, than I do.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just true.  For people who are “well connected,” and people who aren’t, all of us have the world we have, and it’s a tough job to learn about, let alone CARE about, anything outside it.

But that is the job people of faith are given.  Especially those of us who feel called to walk the way Jesus walked…he was not a “well connected” person, he was not a person who focused his attention solely on “his people,” or those in his immediate vicinity.  He walked a lot.  He rubbed elbows with folks from all walks of life, and his circle of concern grew to the point that it encompassed all people and all of God’s Creation.  If we are serious about going on this journey, then we need to be serious about naming the people who are NOT in our Network, and we need to be courageous and creative in finding ways to be connected to those people, those issues…lifestyles and cultures that are not our own.

To put a fun spin on it: We’re all Kevin Bacon, we’re all six degrees away from someone else.  And our every day decisions have real affects on those people who we don’t even know about.  We owe it to everyone to learn something about that.  The more we are separated from people not in our network, the less chance we have of living justly and honestly, and the greater the risk of making choices that hurt and oppress people in ways we can’t imagine.  Close the gap.  Go meet someone you consider weird.  Widen your world.

Who’s in your Network?

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