Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Sociometry for the Holidays

Originally posted on November 27, 2013

This is a time when we write and send greeting cards, send out and accept holiday invitations, hold parties and decide whether or not to go here or there. It’s a time that people are intuitively feeling into their social networks. These feelings are very varied!
   – There are those with whom you feel a positive and reciprocated positive rapport are welcome, comfortable, preferred.
   – But also there are those whom you’re “supposed” to like, but your feelings range from mildly positive to distinctly negative—but they’re friends.
    – And there are those to whom one’s feelings have cooled a bit. Perhaps you’ve just grown apart, time, distance, interests. There are two subtypes: The first have dropped away, no longer sending cards. Let ‘em go. The second have continued to send you friendly cards. What to do? Who will stop first? Dare you take some folks off your list before they take you off of theirs?

There’s a tendency to feel ashamed or guilty—the latter is slightly more conscious and involves behaviors that you know you can do differently, at least a little. Shame is tough—it’s about what you are, your status, height, skin color, relatives, other things you can’t help. Anyway, there’s a sense of guilt (at least in me) in withholding greeting cards from someone who still esteems me enough to send me theirs. But then I wonder how much they are thinking of how much they care, since I don’t hear from them from one holiday season to another.

It’s subtly stressful when you’re in a relationship where the other person doesn’t really clearly like you, even if they do  “love” you (as their duty calls them to do), or “like” you (as family relations and social reciprocity demands, unless you’ve earned their enmity). In small communities, there’s a lot of tolerance. These are relationships with what sociometrists call mixed “tele” (or rapport). While you haven’t any excuse for thinking of them as enemies, these relationships—and they may constitute a substantial sub-group of everyone you know—are trying.

When you’re with a less-than congenial or mixed-tele or low rapport people, it’s a constant drain on your energy. This was so common in a world where people were often thrown together based on mere proximity. I suspect that the freedom to find people with positive rapport, natural compatibility, may account for the increase in creativity in urban settings.

When you’re in mixed rapport relationships, you’re constantly dealing with ambiguous nonverbal communications. These little jolts throw you off to varying degrees, depending on your interpersonal sensitivity. Even if you are only modestly sensitive, even these feelings get tamped down to cope with messages that could be taken as reproach. “Did I just say something wrong?” “Should I feel guilty?” “I don’t know what it was but I feel as if I did something wrong. Or not enough.”

One learns to habitually screen out these messages, and to turn down alertness as well as attention to the other person. If the messages are primarily positive, the relationship fun, then one unconsciously sharpens one’s sensitivity. I want to please and have some hope of doing so. Such feelings may not be perceived consciously; people tend to brighten up, gain energy, work harder, when the morale is good, the rapport among the people in the group positive,

The point is that sociometry offers a tool for making explicit such perceptions of the quality and strength of social connections. Sociometry thus recognizes the gap between more and less comfortable relationships. Admittedly, these feelings vary with the type of shared activity or role taken, but even just becoming aware of some of these issues expresses a fundamental dynamic. Many people feel impelled to keep such perceptions unconscious because they cross the boundary of taboo.

However, most folks don’t know that this realm exists, or screen out and ignore subtle cues about that dynamic. That ignorance accounts for a great deal of interpersonal conflict. When one is not in good rapport with another, anything the other person does tends to be perceived as annoying. If one is in good rapport, that same behavior is often perceived as endearing, a “cute” quirk. Even attempts to be friendly or affectionate can seem phony or sticky. It’s better, then, to find out where one stands and what kinds of relationship is going on. (Other papers on sociometry may be found on my website.)

The tool, the method, involves simply asking whom would you prefer to be with for doing some activity. Asking yourself that when there are five or more people to choose among becomes interesting. You find that although x was a relative, you’d rather share time with y, an acquaintance. You don’t know y that well, but your rapport with y is better than with x, whom you’re “supposed” to like better. Tele doesn’t follow kinship or other rules. Sometimes we prefer someone who shares an interest or temperamental outlook.

What if we re-arranged our society so that it partook more of freedom to associate with people with whom was naturally more congenial, based on temperament and common interest, or mutual attraction for other reasons? That’s the challenge that sociometry hopes to address.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *