Six degrees of separation

Sir Tom Jones
Sir Tom Jones

A ‘degree of separation’ is a measure of social distance between people. It is said we are one degree away from everyone we know, two degrees away from everyone they know etc, and only six degrees away from every individual on the planet.

The idea first came to light in 1929 in a volume of short stories entitled Everything is Different by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy. Since then people have tried to prove or disprove Karinthy’s theory. According to the Washington Post, in 2006 Microsoft researchers studied records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people in various countries, equivalent to roughly half the world’s instant-messaging traffic at that time. They looked at the minimum chain lengths it would take to connect 180 billion different pairs of users in the database. The average length was found to be 6.6 steps; 78 per cent of the pairs could be connected in seven steps or fewer, but some were found to be separated by as many as 29 steps.

Whether or not the theory is true, some people are very keen to connect themselves with the rich or influential. The new BBC programme The Voice UK aired on Saturday night. Two of the coaches, Sir Tom Jones and Will.I.Am, were both keen to let it be known that they had spent time with Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson respectively. Alas I cannot compete with such name dropping, and even if I could, what have I gained by being able to say that I am acquainted with someone famous. Not so many years ago, an international singing star was rumoured to have links with the mafia, but does that put the mafia in a better light? Surely we should be judged on our own character, not who we know, but how we treat who we know.

To all of us who boast about our acquaintances, there is one person who is accessible to us all, one person who is more famous than anyone who has ever lived, one person more powerful, more beautiful – and more ignored by millions in our Western society. His concern is not only for the famous, but for the poor, the downtrodden, the weak and the complete unknowns! He loves us all, and longs that we might know him; not so that we can boast about it, but so that our lives might be transformed. There shouldn’t be any degree of separation between us and him.

“This is what the LORD says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,

that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9 v 23 -24)