An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whiskey, followed closely by Italian Paparazzi, on Japanese motorcycles. She was treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines! And this article is being written by an Australian living in America, written using technology from the Japanese. You are likely reading it on a computer that uses Philippine-made chips, and Korean made monitors, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by lorries driven by Indians, hijacked by Indonesians and finally sold to you by the Chinese!
It certainly seems like the world is getting smaller, doesn’t it? Or does it? If the world is getting smaller, why are postal rates going up? So what do we mean when we say “it’s a small world?” We mean that travel, communication, trade and information are moving more quickly and easily, giving the appearance that we are nearer each other. A beautiful artistic expression of the small world is the telectroscope that allows people to see from London to New York thanks to real time fibre optic imaging. Incredible!
Of course, the world is the same size it’s always been, minus a few rainforests and polar ice caps. It just seems smaller. It’s like the experience most of us have when we visit a childhood home or vacation spot. What seemed so enormous when we were kids suddenly seems small and unimpressive. My memories of my childhood home were that I lived in a mansion. When I visited recently, it was as if someone had put it in the oven and shrunk it like a Shrinky Dink.
The experience of shrinky dinking the world in our minds is healthy to the extent that we feel more in tune with people and events around the globe. It’s exciting to live in a small world, but not if it deludes us into thinking that we have nothing left to discover, and nothing can surprise us. The balancing perspective is that the world is expansive and there are always more people, places and experiences to amaze and inspire us. A direct experience of all that life has to offer is at your finger tips, and the possibilities for depth are limitless.
Another perspective on this is that the world may be getting smaller for some more than others. For example, there has been talk for a decade now of a supersonic jet that would fly from New York to London in 40 minutes. People would be able to commute back and forth across the Atlantic. Imagine the cost of business class tickets on that rocket! Air travel is an interesting microcosm of society. It’s relatively quick and easy to fly to and from the major hubs, like London, New York and Chicago. But if you need to fly to one of the smaller hubs, you’re at the mercy of the travel gods, on a wing and a prayer. The focus on major hubs has made smaller places more isolated. Not to mention the cost. Money makes the world smaller, the waits shorter and the trips less painful. If we are serious about the benefits of the small world, it needs to benefit the greatest number possible.
Enjoy the small world, without taking it for granted for a second or depriving some of its resources. Depth and generosity are important balancing energies. The same is true for six degrees of separation. The idea of six degrees of separation and weak ties are important in terms of expanding our horizons and shrinking the world. The problem is when we live in a world full of acquaintances but experience no depth, and never truly get to know each other and turn acquaintances into friends and connections into partnerships. It’s exciting to live in a world of new connections, as long as our experience of relationships doesn’t become superficial.
Enjoy the mysterious connectedness of the small world, and also take the idea of degrees of separation to more significant and intimate issues. Take a chance on a stranger or an acquaintance. Cut through the small talk and share some of your hopes and fears for your life and the world. With a willing conversation partner, you will very quickly turn an acquaintance into a kindred spirit. Share some of your private experiences of wonder and gratitude, and you will very quickly find that there are very few degrees of separation. When it comes to matters of the heart and spirit, there isn’t even a single degree of separation. Beyond the surface, in our common humanity, we are connected more than we ever imagine.
There is a beautiful little scene in Winnie the Pooh when Pooh and Christopher Robin are playing together. Pooh says to Christopher, “This is my favorite part of the day. The part when you and me become WE.”
This is my favorite part of community, conversation and connections- when you and me become WE. This is the gold when it comes to the small world and six degrees of separation. We are far more alike than we are different. Underneath all the hustle and bustle, pomp and pretence, you are surrounded by kindred spirits, immersed in the adventure of life just like you. Take a look around. It is 360 degrees of connections, life reflecting life in every direction, and ultimately not even a single degree of separation.