It is my understanding that generally people are wired up to be able to cope with social interactions between a group of 150 people. It’s an average, and like all averages there will be people to whom, one way or another and for whatever reasons, it does not apply. It is however a place to start from. How many people do you regularly deal with, through work, neighbourhood, family, social engagements… because of course back when we were tribal peoples, there wasn’t this weird distinction between different interactions with different groups of people in the same way. Pre-industrial revolution in fact, we peasants played, reproduced, worked and struggled alongside our neighbours. Pre-cars most of us had more connectivity to the people around us.
And then there’s internet. It is both a blessing and a curse in terms of the scope for breadth and depth of interaction. I’m married to a man I met online and some of my closest relationships depend to at least some degree on maintenance by ether, but there’s a lot of you out there.
Some weeks ago now, I had a meltdown. It happens. I was exhausted and I’d just had a run of messing up. I’d massively annoyed someone, and couldn’t work out if I needed to feel responsible over that. I’d forgotten an important historical detail while dealing with someone I care about. I panicked. In the process of stepping away from that and looking at what had happened, I realised a thing: I’m dealing with a lot of people.
In a normal week, I will interact with hundreds of different people. Local people, authors, random people on social media, friends, people I’ve run into somewhere, business contacts, bloggers, and so on and so forth. For that to work I have to remember who they are and what we have in common and what we talked about last time and what their issues are and who they don’t get on with and what offends them and all the other things.
Now, it’s possible to do this well with a handful of close connections. Trying to hold that level of detail and information-intimacy with truly hundreds of people some of whom I seldom communicate with… that’s tough. There are things about how I work and what I do that make it necessary, or at least useful, and when I can pull it off, this ability to handle a ‘tribe’ of excessive proportions certainly has its advantages, but what I realised is that I need to cut myself some slack if I can’t remember a conversation from a year ago, or if I make a mistake and someone is offended by that.
I can’t magically know everything, and that’s pointed to some much bigger issues. I’ve been places where I’ve been expected to magically know things I had no way of knowing, and been punished for failing to be psychic enough. I don’t have to carry on doing that to myself in the hopes of staying ahead of people who would otherwise cheerfully hurt me. What I need to do instead is have less to do with anyone who demands perfection of me, be more alert to unreasonable demands (mine and other people’s) and recognise that I actually have a really good memory for people related stuff, but I frequently push beyond its limits. I have to stop trying to be omniscient, it’s exhausting as well as being entirely beyond me.