Ori and Rom Brafman's new book Click: The Magic of Instant Connections raises a number of interesting observations concerning why some people are able to immediately make a personal connection. I found the most interesting aspect of the book was the discussion of the importance of proximity in personal relationships. Whether the authors analyzed basketball players, policeman or office coworkers, the best predictor of friendship was the distance the individuals lived or worked from each other. This pattern extended itself to the world of college dorms where those living in the center of housing complexes had more friends than those living at the edges. When students were asked who did they "click" with the most, 40% of the time the answer was the next-door neighbor. Apparently, the casual conversations between neighbors helped build a greater sense of bonding while those further down the hall were less likely to receive such casual chit-chat.
This book made me think about the significance of neighbors as it relates to nations. The US shares two of the world's longest borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.
Cultural similarities between the US and Canada are readily apparent to anyone who has traveled to the Pacific Northwest or the border areas near New York, Maine, Vermont or even Montana. The US and Canada are both former British colonies that have supported each other in numerous military conflicts during the 20th and 21st century.
Cultural similarities between the US and Mexico are readily apparent to anyone who has visited the US Southwest or California. Mexican descendants comprise over 12% of the American population with an ever-growing influence on American culture. Millions of tourists travel between Mexico, the US and Canada every year enjoying the local culture and history.
Trade is natural between neighboring countries as the transportation of goods is easier than long-distance shipping. US international trade has mirrored this rule of proximity for a long time, with a little help from NAFTA. The US's largest trade partner in January 1998 was Canada ($25.4 B) and Mexico ($13.2 B) was the 3rd largest. The most recent measurement, April 2010, shows that Canada is still the US's largest trade partner ($44.4 B) and Mexico is number 3 ($31.6 B) less than $1B behind China. There is little question that proximity plays a major role in the tremendous volume of this cross-border trade.
Friction and war are intimately related to proximity. The history of Europe, Africa, Asia and the America's is littered with examples of neighboring countries battling over land, goods, religion and power. Every Canadian knows that the US invaded during the War of 1812 though it should be noted that at the time Canada was not an independent country but still a British colony and the US was at war with Britain. Mexicans are angered to this day by the fact that about half of their country was taken from them in the mid 1800's as a result of the Mexican American War including most of the now American Southwest.
Many might argue that our conflicts with Mexico and Canada are long in the past, but our militaries involvement in Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua and other nearby countries are reminders that proximity to the US doesn't always bring along friendship. Of course, distance from the US doesn't always guarantee peaceful relations either but we can discuss Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea and the US tendency to get involved in military conflicts in a different article.
In Click, the Brafman brothers make a number of strong points about the importance of proximity in individual relationships. With respect to nations, proximity has major impacts on trade, culture similarities and, unfortunately too often is associated with conflict and not the friendships discussed in Click.