Dunbar’s number is on my mind these days. Some of you may have heard about it, it is the maximum number of relationships our minds are said to be designed to manage: 150. Robin Dunbar proposed the following well-studied, tested and scientifically validated principle many years ago, that postulates that our social capital and mental capacity limit the number of friendships we can hold at any given time. His theory expands to talk about the number of very intimate relationships we can hold: 3-7 and the number of close relationships we can maintain: in the 12-16 range. Here is a great visual I found on the web at soulcafeblog.com.
I’ve been reading a book called Scale by Geoffrey West and in that book, he devotes a good deal of time and space to this concept because his book is all about how there are underlying theories to how groups, cities, companies, organisms and the universe scale. It is fascinating stuff, and as a man of both faith and science, I am awed by the beauty of these patterns.
As someone who is trying to grow closer to others and sprinkle as much salt and light into the world as possible before I go, I am humbled. These numbers tell me a story. They tell me that, although I may have 500+ friends on Facebook and I might go to work with 150,000 people and post my blog posts to the limitless expanses of the internet; my very best chance to be salt and light is in community with these 150 people.
As we each try to add new habits and new dimensions to grow ourselves, I want to offer another way to add. Add depth. Look at these circles. Think about who is in them. Consider ways you can add depth and greater meaning to each of these 150 relationships. You know you’ll have to spend more capital on those closest to you. A bit more time, a few more deliberate attempts each week or each day to avoid taking them for granted. Maybe, like me, you need to add more acceptance and patience to a couple of them? Maybe it is an extra text or phone call to let them know you’re thinking about them? Perhaps it is throwing a ball or watching a movie with someone?
Maybe, like me, you need to add more acceptance and patience to a couple of them?
Maybe it is an extra text or phone call to let them know you’re thinking about them?
Whatever it is, at whichever level of the circles you add – add depth. Add love. Add kindness and consideration. Add laughter. Add you. Whether you are a person of faith or not, you probably know it will make the world a better place. You probably know the people around you are craving time and attention from you. You probably already know you will be better in the coming weeks, months and years for the effort.