Making the time you spend with others really matter

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Becoming a young adult is, in my experience, a time of intense self-questioning, reflection, and doubt. In most parts of the world, a human being’s time until the age of 18 is largely determined by the government through mandated education.

After high school, a level of autonomy is introduced that hasn’t been dealt with before. With great power comes great responsibility, and with great responsibility comes a level of uncertainty as to how to best manage it. Which parts of my life do I value and wish to prioritize? Which areas do I thrive in, and which areas have room for improvement? How will I make use of this newfound time and energy?

In my case, one of the greatest difficulties in this transition phase has been the fostering and maintenance of friendships. With more demands and the pressure to lay a solid foundation for the future, every action or decision seems like it has to directly link back to establishing success.

Something like spending time with a friend or reading a book can seem non-beneficial and potentially even a burden. My instinctive use of the word “maintenance” to describe the role that friendships play in my life suggests that it acts more like a cog in a machine that needs to be regularly oiled, rather than a seed that can bloom into something beautiful and vibrant.

Even as someone who strongly believes in the value of deep relationships and community to creating a better world, I struggle to make time for others in my life. It’s an issue that only grows stronger as familial and professional responsibilities gently nudge friendships out of one’s radar. And yet, while this may have its downsides, I believe there exists a silver lining: you’re forced to make sure the time you spend with others is being spent with the people you want to spend it with.

This may be a revelation that many of us naturally stumble upon, but there’s another layer of refinement: what matters is not only who you spend your time with, but what you talk about.

Society seems to be more obsessed than ever with shock value. Clickbait titles, “BREAKING NEWS” updates every ten minutes, and ridiculous YouTube video thumbnails all reach for our attention, no matter how trivial or unimportant the topic. Even in our own social circles, we’re served a 24/7, all-you-can-eat buffet of content on others’ lives.

With unlimited access to anything and everything that goes on in the world, we certainly have more to talk about. Whether these issues and topics are of genuine substance is an entirely different topic.

It’s clear that we face a couple of issues: we often have less time for others than we’d like, and even when we do have enough of it, we have too much to talk about. It requires a conscious filtering not only of relationships, but of content. As Eleanor Roosevelt said,

It’s amazing how this quote has stood the test of time, and, in fact, become increasingly relevant in the modern world. Information overload and the commodification of our attention are all too real. One of the most important questions we must ask ourselves is, how will we choose to spend our time with the human beings we care about the most?

I don’t mean to suggest that every comment or topic has to be of a life-altering or existential nature. Some of the greatest moments in relationships come from laughing or arguing over the most ridiculous and mundane things. But I still believe there exists a case for becoming more conscious conversationalists — with our family, our friends and even our “enemies.” It may mean changing your firmly-grounded perspective on a topic, or adding to your understanding of an issue in the world. Each and every conversation has the ability to slightly tweak your understanding of our world for the better.

The norm in our culture seems to be discussing relatively shallow topics, with a need to jokingly address when a conversation dives into a deeper part of the pool, suggesting this to be the exception. It’s interesting, because I find that my most meaningful conversations with others are the ones that leave me the most energized and live in my memory for the longest.

It comes back to weighing instant gratification against long-term reward, and consciously deciding which one holds out. Would you rather get a few laughs out of, say, speaking poorly about others and pitting celebrities against each other? Or truly connect with others through conversations that build your relationships for years to come?

We only spend so much of our time on this planet having conversations. Coupled with the widespread belief that our relationships play a powerful role in determining the quality of our lives, it becomes essential to think twice about where our conversations take us.

Thanks so much for reading! I would love to hear your take on this idea of conscious conversation. If you like what you read, feel free to check out my other posts and follow me.

Passionate about human relations in our modern world. Author, “Global Cooling (The Not-So-Good Kind),” 2021/2022.