Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. This is the inner circle of friends who you would comfortably enter their home and have lunch or bump into at a bar and have a drink. Once you surpass this number the comfort level and understanding of the people goes down creating a distance making them more of a casual acquaintance.
The number is 150, a small number when you think of the pool of people we are exposed to in our daily lives. It is instinctual to hold some distance from others outside of our Dunbar 150 and also a serious vetting process to let them in. I imagine my Dunbar number revolving as time moves forward. Always a flow of new ones coming in and old ones fading out into casual acquaintances. This is sad but also a fact of our biology.
But then there are the ones that fall out of the typical mold of entering and leaving my Dunbar 150. The friends from childhood that you haven’t seen in years that still bring you right back to a place of belonging and happiness. Or even a mentor that was only in your life for brief moments but left an impact that cemented their place in your inner circle for life. Those are the special people that your heart refuses to let out. All of us have them and as we gain more and more of them it becomes harder and harder for people to enter as newcomers.
Then comes along someone who goes out of their way to say thanks and appreciate your effort, they share with you a part of them and in a matter of moments jump right into your 150. As I write this I get the mental image of an old friend from grade school being pushed off the edge of Dunbar’s cliff into casual acquaintance land, as a charismatic new force enters my social realm.
Recently, speaking for myself and Chris, we had just one of those. She had us to her house to remove some trees and plant some new ones. By the end of the two days we spent there I can confidently say she is in our Dunbar 150. I feel that speaks volumes for the type of person she is. Just like everyone else, she has a full list of people she cares deeply for, but still has the capacity to be kind to us and make us feel comfortable, like we belong in her home. At the end of our two-day job on her property, she surprised us with pizza and invited us into her home. She continuously complemented our work and spoke to us as if we were family of her own.
Some people just have a profound way to enter your circle and stay, no matter how long its been since you have seen them or how recently you have met them. For me its never a quotable line or a wise speech that cements their spot in my heart but the way that I felt when I was around them. Dunbar’s 150 is not a hard line that can not be crossed but it is a good illustration that we do have a capacity to our ability to trust and care. So, when someone goes out of their way to be kind and acknowledge our efforts I hope to never dismiss it because there are plenty of others they could have given that kindness and trust to.