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Shell Shocked: Six degrees of separation

By Staff | Jun 21, 2017

A friend whom I’ve known since college moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico about fifteen years ago. About two years ago, his tennis group invited a new member into its doubles game. As is routine when you meet somebody new, you begin asking a new acquaintance questions about his background to get to know him better.

When my friend found out that his new tennis mate was originally from New York he asked him if he knew me. Now, what are the odds of one person from New York knowing another person from New York when the population of the city is ten million? Ten million to one?

Well it just so happened that not only did this individual know me but gave my friend something to bring to me when he next visited me in Sanibel my kindergarten class photo. My friend’s new tennis mate was in my kindergarten class and in the photo he was the last kid on the left in the front row. And, yes, I did indeed remember him even though I hadn’t seen him since elementary school.

So the odds of ten million to one became another instance of six degrees of separation. It seems that you just can’t have a conversation with anyone these days without discovering that you know at least one person in common. Even if you meet total strangers not ten minutes will go by until you discover who that sixth degree of separation is.

And it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in. Several years ago my wife and I were in Budapest and were introduced to a local couple by mutual friends. Now, mind you, I had never met these people before in my life. But when we started to chat in English about the U.S., the Hungarian couple told us that they had reasons to visit the U.S. periodically because their daughter had recently married an American and was living in Portland, Oregon.

I casually asked them what their daughter did and they told me she worked for a public relations firm. I asked which one and they told me. Now it was getting interesting. I knew the president of this firm. So I asked them who her husband was and as the law of sixth degree would have it they named the president.

The president of this firm and I were good business buddies and I had heard that he had recently gotten married. How could I have possibly known that I’d be meeting his in-laws in Budapest? Yes, six degrees of separation.

Sometimes a sixth degree of separation story is so bizarre as well as surprising that it sometimes appears that each of us knows every single person on the planet. Some years ago I started doing business with a lady in New York and after about a year we met for a friendly lunch. We started asking each other questions about ourselves to get to know each other better.

She told me she had a brother who worked for a newspaper. I asked her his name. When she told me I almost fell off my chair. Her brother was one of my best friends. I had known he had siblings but I had never met them.

So here I am doing business with this woman for a year and never knew she was the sister of one of my best friends. There are many stories like this about discovering people we know in common.

So the next time you’re making conversation with a taxi driver in Hong Kong don’t be surprised if his son is your cardiologist. Or that your daughter is married to his cousin’s son. Or that his auto mechanic is the uncle of your plumber. Well, you get the idea.

-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.