“Familiarity is seductive and also begins our journey along a slick road of complacency.” (Shanta)
“I forgot how well I knew this area. Forgot tiny things like certain streets, the buildings I would pass by but not pay attention to. I’d been in this area for 12 years and it is not until I moved out of it, I realized that there was a familiarity that I was missing now that I was in a new area.” (A Piece of a Conversation with a Friend)
That is a quote from my friend within our conversation about the newness of moving and the things you don’t realize until they are out of your immediate or most familiar environment. His vivid brief description of realizing that he was not in the place of familiarity after 12 years and now in a new geographic location speaks to something that we all forget from time to time. Familiarity arguably lulls us into a false sense of knowing while providing a certain sense of comfortable intimacy. While this may be terribly obvious, just ask yourself,
□ How many times did you realize that the abandoned building was something you missed until it was no longer on the street corner of that familiar street either from a natural disaster or for other reasons?
□ Is there something that has shifted in the landscape of your home (like a missing piece of furniture or a broken item that has to be discarded) that you did not notice until the shift happened?
□ Think back to the last time you woke up the next day after your first night of being away from home either due to being on vacation or while staying at a friend’s house. What did you notice after it became glaringly obvious that what you know as home is not there?
Perhaps there are other things through other senses (like touch, taste, or smell) that you take for granted until something different is introduced. I will give you an example. A few months ago, I was at work, took a restroom break, and washed my hands just before coming back to my desk. Upon sitting back at my desk, I started to arrange papers and folders with my hands moving fast with the motion of my arms. While doing this, I caught a whiff of a scent from the hand soap that seemed to mix with the residue of the lotion on my hands. I was immediately transported to the busy and crowded streets of Alleppey (in Southern India) as I recalled the route that led to a restaurant that I frequented everyday for two months. I would go there almost every day around brunch to order sunny side up eggs and toast. I instantly saw the red walls, the simple menus in clear covers with a black border, and recalled the smell. During my stay in Alleppey December –early February, I became accustomed to the restaurant, the smell and my regular order of eggs and toast.
During my 5-month stay in India, this restaurant was not the most notable or memorable place on my list. I had many other fond places none of which included this place tucked along a busy street in Southern India. Yet, on this particular day while at work, sitting in my office back in America a few years later, a smell reminded me of this non-descript restaurant, the one I’d taken for granted for 2 months! However, I realized that this restaurant that was once so familiar was now glaringly missing from my daily experience.
Familiarity slips into our mouths when we eat our favorite dish, imprints itself upon our fingertips with a familiar touch, and transports us to what is known yet comforting. At the same time, familiarity causes a certain blindness, subconscious ignoring and nurtures complacency as our bodies and minds get lulled into that moment of remembering or feeling familiar.
To what extent is the act of being so familiar with something (like our jobs, our relationships, intimate environs, etc.) actually our undoing? In other words, can the familiar be detrimental or toxic for growth? It is not really a yes or no answer but both depending on the specific set of circumstances. Sometimes it is impossible to know what has become familiar until we are swimming in an ocean of unfamiliar very similar to the experience my friend spoke about in the earlier quote.
Thus, dwelling in the realm of familiar must be handled with care and balance while introducing things that challenge what we think we know so well. In other words, stay cozy with your world of the familiar while making sure you introduce doses of that which you don’t know.