Monday Over Coffee: "Bring a Friend"

Published January 29, 2024 by Greg Funderburk

Nate Bargatze is one of the most gifted performers on the American comedy scene today. With my wife and friends, I’ve enjoyed his shows at local venues three or four times now. The subject of a 2021 article in The Atlantic entitled, “The Nicest Man in Stand-up,” Bargatze’s family-friendly cable tv specials (Full Time Magic, The Tennessee Kid, The Greatest Average American, Hello World) were all big hits. He also hosts a terrific podcast called Nateland, and recently made his first appearance on Saturday Night Live. Hailing from Nashville, Bargatze’s dose of Southern charm and a disarming self-deprecating wit are both a big part of his winning presentation. Though no doubt whip-smart, his on-stage persona suggests he’s often baffled by the day-to-day demands of modern life in a complex world. Nate has a ton of clever and humorous bits, as any internet search of his material reveals, but one of my favorites is his story about the time he climbed up Mount Rainier with a friend. 

“Mt. Rainier,” Nate begins, “is the third biggest mountain in America. I don’t know who number one or number two is, but maybe one day, it’ll be number one. Do mountains keep growing? I don’t think we know that yet. So it’s a good time to see it—it doesn’t have the attitude of a one or a two, but if you ever go,” he continues, “just so you know, you have to pay to go up it. It’s not a free mountain. It’s also all uphill. It’s a nightmare really. So, be ready for those things.”

At the halfway point up the trail, Nate finds he can barely breathe. He sees an older woman and her husband coming down the mountain, and when they meet, he asks them, “Hey, is this enough? Where we’re at now? Is this, like—hey, you get it.” The woman replies, “I’m 75 and I did it,” leading Nate to conclude, “You know, everybody’s pretty cocky on the way down.”

A few years ago, our family went to Wyoming, and while there we hiked together up a four-mile mountain trail in Grand Teton National Park. As we were heading upwards, consistent with Nate’s observation, I noticed the mood of most of the people we encountered heading down seemed quite different from ours still on our ascent. It was rewarding to finally get to the top, take a breather, then start the four-mile descent. As we did, our collective mood had changed into something more upbeat and self-satisfied, no doubt showing in our faces as we met and occasionally spoke to folks still laboring upwards. It’s true, everyone’s a bit more cocky on the way down. 

Sometime after that trip, I read an article authored by a number of university professors appearing in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology entitled, “Social Support and the Perception of Geographical Slant.”1 Following exhaustive research on their subject, the professors’ scientifically-worded conclusion was that a human being’s visual perception of how steep and difficult it will be to ascend an incline is mediated by whether one is accompanied by another person with whom he or she is socially or relationally connected. More colloquially, they found that if you’re with friends or family from whom you feel support, you’ll perceive a mountain as less steep and the challenge more achievable. And perhaps most interestingly of all, they found the better the quality of the relationship in terms of duration, personal closeness, and warmth, the more measurable the effect.

On one hand, this makes some sense, but on the other, it’s kind of odd, isn’t it? I mean, really? The way our brains perceive something objective like the slope of a mountain is detectably influenced by whether we’re with another person or all alone? That’s a most interesting fact. And while it could be that the relevancy of these conclusions are restricted only to the mountain climbers and the hiking enthusiasts among us, I have to doubt that’s the case. If having some social support next to us makes a difference on whether we think we can accomplish an arduous task like scaling a mountain, having close friends and family around as we take up many other of life’s most grueling endeavors must have an impact as well, right?

Life can sometimes seem all uphill. Sometimes, it’s a nightmare. Sometimes the mountains even seem to keep growing. So, be ready for those things. Bring a friend.

God—Thank you for the company of friends on life’s upward climb.

1 J Exp Soc Psychol. 2008 Sep 1; 44(5): 1246–1255, Schnall, Simon, Harber, Kent D., Stefanucci, Jeanine K., Proffitt, Dennis R., Social Support and the Perception of Geographical Slant.