Recently, a writer for a humor site got in touch about a piece she was writing on cult recruitment. After we’d spoken on the phone, she sent me a rough draft of her text. Her thesis was that anyone could get sucked into a cult; at least when you first show up, some aspects of cult life are damn attractive. One such aspect is frequent, casual contact with your fellowbeings – which, she quoted some psychologist as saying, offers fertile ground for forming friendships. Meaning, for all their drawbacks, cults do often foster closeness.
What struck me, while absorbing this thought, was the absence, in my city life, of frequent, casual contact. It’s not that I lack friends, or opportunities for social engagement – it’s that pretty much any time I desire contact with a human other than my husband, I have to make an appointment.
That doesn’t make it easy to extend and firm my web of relationships.
Alan Booker, of the Eldenbridge Institute, offers this metaphor for how we form ties: When I first meet you, a filament stretches from my heart to yours. With each interaction, the thread thickens; over time, if we interact enough, it becomes a rope.
As a city dweller, interacting by appointment, I thicken threads into ropes slowly – partly because the process of appointment-making can be laborious, partly because, in a context where most needs are met through money, there’s a limited range of ways to interact. As a villager (by “village” I mean a group united by some kind of commons and interdepending to meet needs; some cults, including Zendik, function(ed) as villages), my threads thicken quickly – partly because I needn’t make appointments to interact, partly because I have a broad range of ways to give and receive, hence a wealth of opportunities for interaction.
I just spent two months in a village; two days ago, I returned to my city. I miss the ropes that formed in those two months. I miss being in a place where threads thicken quickly.