Last month I found myself having a bit of a piss and moan with a group of friends I cycle with.
The person we were complaining about really had behaved badly. She turned up late, delayed us, wanted to do a different route but wasn’t happy to lead it and complained a lot. It was annoying and brought everyone down. When cycling with a group is one of the highlights of your week, it makes a big difference if someone spoils the fun.
I'm afraid we were bonding over the shared annoyance and though you could tell we were feeling this was a bit illicit, we were getting high off the fumes of being in the right. I knew it didn’t sit that well with me, I was trying to work out if there were good reasons for this person acting that way, and in fact changed the conversation. But I thought complaining was all part of being with friends.
A few weeks later, I read about a concept that lit up my neurons like fairy lights: ‘common enemy intimacy’.
This is when you bond with someone over hating something or someone. Like cricket. You can get a good conversation going even with a stranger about how tedious watching cricket is (sorry anyone who doesn’t like cricket, personal example here. I’ve sat through many a match with no idea what's happening).
According to Brené Brown the social worker researcher (I know, sorry, I’m addicted), this isn’t real connection. The research shows that we don’t trust the people we bond with just based on things we hate. Which makes sense.
Luckily my friends and I all love cycling. I can rely on the fact we help each other out with punctures, getting home if we don’t feel well, buying the best cake at the cafe so the next group of riders don’t take it all, etc. and we have goals and dreams we support each other with.
If we’d just bonded over being annoyed, we’d have nothing to base our connection on.
I didn’t know this! I thought it wasn’t great to gossip about people but I also thought that perhaps finding like-minded friends and complaining about things was a way of strengthening relationships. Not so nice for the people being complained about but a fact of human social interaction.
Which brings us back to midwifery. How often do we have different points of view? If we have a rant with a colleague about how much we hate a certain piece of practice, are we aware that this is doing nothing for our relationship?
Common hatred doesn’t bring us together. Common appreciation does.
I think this sort of thing should be taught in schools. Or in the NHS. Could you do me a favour and tell one other person about 'common enemy intimacy', as I think it could change practice?
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. We will be talking about this kind of thing at The Kindness Conference.