To be familiar with someone or something can bring complacency or comfort depending upon the situation and level of awareness. This thought came to me a couple of weeks ago while observing some of my fellow Norfolkans milling around in the evacuation center. Most Nebraskans, like many people everywhere, are comfort-craving, status quo loving folks. The regional severe weather crises stirred up the complacency pot by threatening our well-being with historic level floods.
Indeed, I also felt a great amount of desire to return to familiar surroundings and the familiar pace of life. Home and routine seem to have become much more important to me as I’ve grown older. The uncertainty about the safety of my little home and happy neighborhood triggered anxious, insecure feelings.
At one point, I decided to analyze my attachment to the comfort and secure feelings I feel about home. What is it about familiarity that affects people?
Wise thinkers of the distant past warned people to avoid becoming familiar with other people and allowing other people to become to familiar with oneself. Over-sharing with others can cause a loss of influence and respect towards and from others. In this manner of thinking, familiarity breeds contempt. When some mystery is present, we feel drawn towards someone or something. When the mystery goes away, we take that person or object for granted. So, perhaps the old saying should be, “familiarity breeds boredom.”
Too little attachment to familiarity can lead to craving novelty for novelty sake. Too much attachment to familiarity can yield closed-mindedness and bigotry. We are reminded of the differences between inertia and dynamism. So, familiarity, as in so many other things in life, is best when it is enjoyed in balance and moderation.
Our culture today seems to be erring on the side of too much familiarity in some ways. The intrusion of familiarity into the Zeitgeist of popular culture has led to bad manners, vulgarity, and contempt towards one another in the forms of bigotry and feelings of victim-hood. Is too much familiarity part of the cause of today’s widespread contempt of civilization?
On the other hand, we have witnessed many ground-breaking changes in society. Technology, medicine, and access to information have speedily manifested in ways that we have not yet digested and comprehended. There has been the advancement of civil rights for women and minority groups that enhance the overall quality of life, in general.
The groundswell of immense changes feels like an overwhelming, mysterious flood to much of society. They seem to crave tradition and a “return” to some form of an imagined mystical past as a balm to the unfamiliar. In some sectors of society, the status quo has become something to worship for its own sake. There is a rose-colored nostalgia and faux-familiarity for a past that never truly existed in the first place. It’s enlightening to realize that most of what we take for familiarity are very strong delusive mental fabrications. Memories are flawed and unreliable, so we become comfortably familiar with only a partial view of our own, personal past.
Each of us has a comfort level and feelings of familiarity that we project as desire for conformity by others to our opinions. Life really is about negotiating our illusions of familiarity with other people’s illusions of familiarity. Sometimes we encounter people who seem weird because our concepts of familiarity differ widely from their concepts of familiarity. When we realize they think we’re weird, we have discovered a new aspect of empathy and another building block of compassion.
It’s all about balance between the familiar with the unfamiliar.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes entertainment industry executive Thomas Freston. “We, as Americans, have so much to learn here. We have a shockingly low level of global awareness and familiarity and little idea of how the world sees us. And those disturbing facts keep getting us into a lot of trouble.”