I’ll admit it: I’m a little jealous of Sam Batista. In his first article for New Thinking, he covered how, by playing Call of Duty with his buddies through the pandemic, they were able to stay in touch and even strengthen their bonds of friendship. Maintaining friendships in adulthood can be hard. Creating new friendships is even harder. And creating new friendships in adulthoods in a global pandemic? Well… eff my life.
I moved to New York City on March 1, 2020. Literally. We packed up over a decade of life in Los Angeles in February of that year, bid the city adieu on a red-eye flight and landed in our new hometown in a month that would kickoff Covid Times. (It feels poetic that we flew out on February 29, since it was a leap year: boy, were we leaping straight into a whole massive pile of something!)
Two years later, we’re still in a pandemic. In a little bit of a throwback moment, New York’s yet again a hot spot—yours truly only just got a push notification that I was around someone who tested positive for more than ten minutes at some point this weekend, which has inspired a rousing mental game of infectious Guess Who. Fun!
However, with vaccines thoroughly in rotation, it seems we’re now facing a new normal, which means no longer blaming Covid for your anemic social life. As much as quarantining for the rest of time might appeal to our introverted sides, Covid is becoming more of an obnoxious schedule workaround to factor in, rather than a catch-all excuse to bow out of all group activities.
I’ve tenuously started to recommence socializing—when not pinged as being potentially Covid positive, of course. But it’s been a challenge. I’ve always been a people person. I can make conversation with basically anyone. (Invite me to your wedding—or have me water your plants, I’ll talk to them!) Yet lately I’ve found I’m rusty as hell. What does one talk about? What is life? I can has social?
Turns out I’m not alone: Covid-19 induced social anxiety is pretty rampant these days. And if you’re like me and you made a big move away from your previous social circle and are seeking to build new ones, it feels like a pretty big ask. So a lot of us are going to look for help where we can get it to set us on the prosocial path back to the rest of humanity.
In the world of self-help literature that advises lonely adults how to make friends, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People still reigns supreme. So it seemed worth a revisit in these trying times to see if its key points still hold water in the modern age.
For starters, one of the strongest bits of advice this book accidentally supports is: it’s a whole hell of a lot easier to influence people when they’re likely to mix you up with Andrew Dale Carnegie. You know… the one with the Hall? And the Foundation? And the Him-Mellon University? And the gobs of money?
The book’s author, Dale Carnegie, is actually of no relation to Carnegie-Hall-Carnegie—he was actually born Carnagey. This clever surname switch continues to benefit the allure of the author as an authority on success to this day. So essentially, key takeaway number one is: either be a rich white man or be easily confused with a rich white man. (All my female writers who have published under a letter instead of your full name, you know I’m talking to you!) American politics has proven this to be the key to influence, time and time again.
As for the actual advice included in the book, a lot of it still holds up, and that’s because most of it can be distilled down into the modern Golden Rule. Namely: Don’t be a dick.
Essentially all of Carnegie’s best pieces of advice are really just lessons in dickish behavior avoidance. Don’t get into arguments. When you’re wrong, admit it right away. Remember people’s names. Call attention to mistakes indirectly. Smile. Take a genuine interest in other people’s interests and let them do the bulk of the talking. (Unsurprisingly, advice on winning friends and influencing people is also an excellent guide on how to crush it on your first date.)
All of this is most excellent advice, but there are a few modern updates I’d recommend adding to bring this manual up to speed:
- Squinty Smile: smiling is a nice way to be warm and inviting. But with everyone wearing N95s, it’s hard to decipher. So make that smile hit your eyes, where it can be seen. Seems silly, but a little squint can go a long way in our masked world.
- Ask Pronouns: Carnegie wrote that “a person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” For starters, we might want to change this to “is to them”—grammar maven that I am, it took me a while to get behind the third gender “them” as acceptable, but if German has one, why not English? And it’s more inclusive and convenient, and has been organically used for decades. So let’s just accept it into the fold.
Secondly, the same kind of respect that comes along with using someone’s name is also imbued in asking and using their correct pronouns. Feel awkward asking, or offering pronouns? Don’t. It’s just you making an effort to be polite. Getting into the habit of asking pronouns regularly will keep this from feeling odd, so even if you think you know the answer of what someone’s pronouns are, just ask: again, it’s a sign of respect, showing you care to learn someone’s naming preference.
If someone is catty in response to you asking their preferred pronouns, then they need to follow the modern Golden Rule and not be a dick. It’s not really that hard to say “he/him, thanks.”
- Avoid Politics: Another great quote from Carnegie’s book that holds true to this day is that “the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” Sadly, in our polarized climate, potential minefields of arguments lie in wait everywhere. It used to be that we could engage in polite discourse, but lately, we seem incapable of discussing subjects that really should not even be political—like vaccination or mask-wearing—without erupting into screaming matches. So avoid politicized topics if you’re trying to get along in a new crowd of folks, because you never know what’s going to completely blow up the room. Though to be fair—there are some people whose friendship you might not want, anyway. So in that case: go for it.
If this sounds too daunting, don’t worry: soon you’ll be able to just call it quits on the real world, anyway, so long as you have robust WiFi. In the burgeoning metaverse, it’ll be possible to interact in the hybrid world through a customized avatar. Hook that puppy up to an AI programmed to listen, smile, and avoid arguments, and your virtual self will soon have all the friends and influence—especially if you make it a rich white guy.