Fancy seeing you here!

A response to that warped perception of the world as being small

Will Pittman

No doubt you’ve said it or at least thought it. 

Maybe you were in a bar at a different school or at an airport or sporting event. You bump paths with someone, or get introduced, and you discover that they went to your summer camp growing up. Or maybe they are now friends with your childhood best friend. Perhaps your dad even happened to be fraternity brothers with their dad at State back in 91’. 

“Woah,” you exclaim or think, “it’s a small world!” 

That must be the conclusion, right? How is this person in this exact spot at the same time I am, and we happen to have this strange connection? Barring the notion that God intended for you to cross paths (shoutout Puritans) the logical conclusion is that the world is just a small place. 

And maybe that conclusion is right. The oft quoted fact that everyone on the planet is separated by at most six degrees of separation has been confirmed by Microsoft researchers who analyzed over 30 billion messages between people in 2008. 

As social beings we spend our lives constantly meeting and interacting with people, and ever since the advent of the internet connecting with others has become remarkably easy. 

But this doesn’t really explain seeing an old acquaintance or having a weird connection with someone at a seemingly random place.

I don’t think it is the case that the world is small. It is the case that your world is small. 

Here, I am generalizing. There could be people reading this who live or have lived in other countries or numerous states, who have interacted with all sorts of people or haven’t had the same opportunities or desire to meet a lot of people growing up, and do not perceive the world as being small. 

But I do think the small worlders (watch out flat earthers) constitute a Washington and Lee University majority (myself included). 

I think a lot of us live narrow lives. By this I mean that we tend to live in similar places, interact with similar people, and do similar things pretty much throughout our entire lives. 

A simple analysis of my earlier example demonstrates this. 

That friend from camp? Take a closer look. Did they go to a private school? Same socioeconomic background? Grew up in the suburbs of a city? Have very similar interests as you?

Is it any wonder that you and they would continue on similar paths that would eventually meet again? I don’t think so; what appears as a chance interaction is not so. A forest may have many trails, but if you never leave the forest, it is likely your trail will intersect with the others at some point or another. 

And I think it is only by leaving the safety of your forest that you can truly realize the world is in fact not small at all. It is huge, filled with people and communities and ideas wholly different from the ones you have come to believe as true and the ones you have found comfort in. 

But that discomfort isn’t for everyone. Your world is secure and doesn’t challenge your being. The world will. 

Experience it, or don’t. But it would be a sad feeling, as Thoreau once wrote, that on your deathbed you discovered that you had never really lived at all.