Make Friends the Ancient Way

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Featured, Lifestyle

I often tell friends looking to build new relationships that they should find ways to bond with others over shared values. For many, the first thought is to join some kind of interest-related Facebook group (or, more usefully, a meetup group). But, I’ve come to realize, if you really want to leverage the internet to blossom new relationships, then you should probably drop Facebook for Facebook Marketplace. More specifically, make friends by trading the way people did in ancient times, not primarily via cash transactions, but by barter. This, it turns out, can be a surprisingly effective means for finding actual friends. 

Of course, your mileage may vary, but there are certain characteristics inherent in bartering that make it a uniquely powerful way to connect with people over shared values—in my case, values related to music and music gear. Take a couple of examples.

I’ve wanted a specific, highly valuable guitar for about a decade, but it’s always been (or seemed) out of my financial reach. I recently found a used one on Facebook Marketplace listed for about 60 percent of what they sell for new. Even still, I could not afford it. But, I offered the owner two other nice guitars for it, and he accepted. Woohoo!

But the best was yet to come: Not only did he show up with this incredible instrument I’ve spent years pining for, but also with loads of knowledge about this and similar guitars, about how to get great guitar tone, and about how some of my favorite music was recorded. Like me, he also loved the guitar he was trading to me; he was letting it go only because had several others similar to it, and because he really liked the guitars that I had selected and collected, the ones I was now trading to him. It turns out that we have loads of shared interests and artistic preferences, that we’re both passionate about making great music—and that we live close enough that getting together on a regular basis is easy. We’re now in talks with other friends about starting a band.

Here’s another example (my favorite, actually). I recently traded amps with another guy, and we got to talking about what we each do for work. He expressed genuine and uncommon interest when I told him I edit a philosophy journal. What’s more, he didn’t wince (as some do) when I told him that the philosophy I personally accept is based on pursuing one’s long-term, rational self-interest; instead he seemed more intrigued. He’d long been interested in philosophy, he said, rattling off the names of several of today’s prominent intellectuals. For decades, he’d been a high-ranking member of a church, but he left when the sacrifices the church demanded became blatantly destructive to his family, his life, his happiness. “What are you doing now?,” I asked. His answer: teaching guitar at Berklee College of Music. My jaw actually dropped. As a kid, I dreamed of going to Berklee, but when my parents and I looked at the prices, the figures virtually slapped me upside the head and sent me packing.

I relayed this, he agreed regarding the sky-high tuition—and then we struck a deal. I would tutor him in philosophy, and he would teach me guitar. We’ve been meeting regularly for months now, and still, even as I write this, I almost can’t believe my great fortune.

These are just a couple outstanding examples of the people I’ve met while bartering. There have been many others who have been interesting and helpful, including a semi-famous guitarist who spent more than an hour chatting with me, answering my questions, and filling my brain with interesting ideas I’d never encountered before.

Some might chalk all this up to fate or destiny or the “power of attraction,” but that’s baloney. We don’t need mysticism to explain why marketplaces bring together people with shared interests. That’s precisely their nature and one of their key functions. And what does bartering add to the mix? It doubles the opportunities for connecting with people over shared interests. Each party gets to share, in effect, a piece of himself—something he personally selected and valued enough to spend his hard-earned money on. And now, each has the opportunity to pass it along to the next person, who sees its value with fresh eyes and who can get some renewed use out of it. This is an uncommon opportunity to build rapport, goodwill, and friendship by teaching one another about these items, any interesting tidbits about their history, and what to expect—including (although some unwisely shy away from the topic) any shortcomings and means of overcoming them. In a cash deal, that teaching is one-sided. That can still lead to relationships, but it’s more rare, because the interaction doesn’t incentivize reciprocally reinforcing helpfulness in the same way that bartering does.

Of course, for all this to work, one needs well-developed interests in things that feasibly can be bartered. But that shouldn’t stop you, given that many (if not most) values can be manifested in some physical form, whether vinyl records, baseball cards, watches, or scotch. If you don’t already have something to barter, that, too, is not a barrier but an opportunity: an opportunity to deepen your values by researching the things you’re interested in with the motive of acting on what you learn. This deepens your understanding and appreciation of the things you value. You gain the requisite knowledge to develop finer preferences, and to satisfy those preferences by recognizing and capitalizing on great opportunities when they arise. For instance, I couldn’t have recognized various trade opportunities if I didn’t know what I wanted or what those things were worth to me. Researching and (otherwise) acting on your values feeds a virtuous cycle, deepening those values and your understanding of a given field, leading to greater and greater knowledge, which you can share with others when opportunities arise—which in turn leads to more and deeper friendships based on shared interests.

So, if you want more friends, don’t aim merely for more followers on social media. Instead, milk your interests, and make friends the ancient way, by bartering.

On Solid Ground is a community blog where we publish articles by guest contributors as well as by the staff and officers of OSI. The ideas offered by guest contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the ideas of the staff or officers of OSI. Likewise, the ideas offered by people employed by OSI are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of others in the organization.

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