Six Degrees of Separation
Stanley Milgram, a former Assistant Professor of Social Psychology from Harvard University, said that you are no more than six steps away from anyone and anything in the world: this is the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, proposed almost 50 years ago.
This means that between you and me there are just five or less people connecting us, with one person somewhere knowing both the friend of your friend, and the friend, doctor or other acquaintance of my friend: it’s a small world.
Going one step further, it would mean that we are all linked with the lives of everyone else by one of six degrees, whether they are our best mate or the most distant person from our social circles. This includes every singer, comic genius and internet sensation, the first person you see after reading this post, and every journalist, editor and the people in the news stories.
The social bonds between us create surprising and extraordinary chains of people who otherwise share no connection, and they unite us all in a way in which we can relate to each other.
Naturally, we all share basic needs for nutrition, breathing, and the ability to sense the environment around us, amongst the other requirements of all living things – movement, reproduction, growth and excretion of waste.
Horrifyingly, within each one of our individual chains of six people, it is probable that one does not have access to safe drinking water, one has adversely affected health due to either high blood pressure or physical inactivity, and one suffers from hunger and malnutrition.
Further, it is likely that one person in a chain within England will be at risk of flooding, within the developing world will be the only one with internet access, and within a socially-linked chain of children in Australia will be affected by asthma.
As a result in human society we have concerns which affect us, whether the fundamental physiological needs for life, societal desires such as respect, relationships and health, or something else. And even those who you think are very different from you, whatever their individual concerns, share a common desire for a life that reflects their deeply-rooted values.
Remembering that we are all only a few steps away from each other gives us great motivation to tell our stories that are close to us emotionally and physically, strive to find common ground, and address our immediate concerns.
For example, climate change is not something we can easily grasp at the global level. But, for my friend with asthma, I can relate to her health by the air pollution caused by local traffic which is known to exacerbate her respiratory condition and climate change. Though we may be quite different in lifestyle, education, and age, our common interest is the health of each other and the environment where we live. Through sharing information and motivation about what we see and what we experience, we can push toward the thriving and healthy lives we both desire.
Though you may not live in the same place, or think or act in the same way as the person most distantly connected to you, you are only a few steps from finding common ground, to relate and connect, and to address what matters to you most.
I invite you to take a look at our resources, share your stories, and take the conversation outdoors and offline to reach even the most distant people you could possibly imagine.
Thank you, and enjoy!
• D’Amato, G., Bergmann, K. C., Cecchi, L., Annesi-Maesano, I., Sanduzzi, A., Liccardi, G., Vitale, C., Stanziola, A. & M. D’Amato. 2014. Climate change and air pollution. Allergo Journal International 23: 17-23.
• Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, and Environment Agency. 2014. Reducing the threats of flooding and coastal change. Government Digital Service, UK. www.gov.uk (accessed July 2014).
• Masoli, M., Fabian, D., Holt, S. & R. Beasley. 2004. Global burden of asthma: a report prepared for the global initiative for asthma. In: Jensen, M. E., Gibson, P. G., Collins, C. E., Hilton, J. M., Latham-Smith, F. and L. G. Wood. 2013. Increased sleep latency and reduced sleep duration in children with asthma. Sleep and Breathing 17: 281-287 .