Spending too much time with strangers

It seems unusual that we are expected to spend time with people that we didn’t choose to, but it happens all the time.

When you work forty hours a week, you are expected to spend all that time with people you don’t know. The only way this doesn’t happen is if you start your own business or you work with family. But for the majority of people, you spend all that time with strangers. Your boss decides who gets hired and who you work with. You often end up spending more time with them than you do your own family.

If you marry into a family, you are then expected to spend every major holiday (like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter) with them, as well as minor holidays (like birthdays). This is odd, since when you marry you state that you are committing to that one person – not their entire clan. Likewise, you certainly did not agree to spend time with people who were not even members of the family when you joined it. Here I’m speaking about people who become members through marriage (brother or sister in-laws) and any resulting children.

One way cloistered communities have it right is that they give the new person and the rest of the community time to feel each other out, to see if they would be a good fit together. This is not done over a luncheon. This is done over the course of years. With monastic communities, it is a minimum of seven years before the person is allowed to make final vows and become a full member of the community. The new person, the abbot or abbess, and the community are all consulted on this.

It seems like something like this would be useful for everyone who is expected to spend a lot of time together.

I remember when I was in the medieval reenactment group, if a new person wanted to join the household I was in, they would approach the Knight (the head of the household). He then would ask each one of us privately what we thought about that person. Not only would we be spending many weekends together, but we also would have different perspectives on that person. We might know something about his personality that he didn’t reveal to the Knight. In one instance, we all had seen that the person was very polite to the Knight, but would be short-tempered and downright mean to anyone he thought was beneath him. The Knight had no idea of this, because the new person had always been on his best behavior with him.

Some combination of these approaches could be useful for workplaces and families. Have the new person spend a significant amount of time with the group before a long-term commitment is made. Each person should then be asked if they feel this new person would be a good fit. Likewise, it gives the new person a chance to see if this group would be the kind of people they would like to be with. This could prevent a lot of stress, and would reduce the amount of workplace and domestic violence.