Connection and community. It’s what we really all crave. To have connection with people around us and to feel like we belong. To know that we are apart of something bigger than us. I am not a religious person but often I see these big religious gatherings and feel envious of their connection and sense of meaning. So what about those who don’t share in the religion or belief, how exactly do we gain a community around us?
I remember thinking that this meant having lots of friends when I was little, crying because someone had more friends than me. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that connection is far from this. It’s about meaningful conversation, it’s about compassion and kindness to others. It plays such an important part in our wellbeing but so often it is overlooked.
We have a become a society of isolated people. Western society demands that we move out of home and fend for ourselves as soon as we hit adulthood. It’s weird to live at home as an adult, and it’s even more weird to like being there. Trust me, the faces and comments that I received when living at home when I was newly married where not the nicest. I had to justify my decision, “we need to save, we still have privacy, we cook our own meals”...and whilst that was true (some of the time), I actually just loved living there and I would move back with the whole family in a heart beat. But apparently this isn’t acceptable so I’ll just continue paying my mortgage and visiting them every second day!
There is a book called the Blue Zones. If you haven’t heard of it I recommend you read it asap! It looks at the 5 longest living communities around the world and analyses what it is they do that provide them longevity and health in their later years. A predominately plant based diet, less stress and physical movement where among the top factors that contributed. That is no surprise, we all know these contribute to our health and wellbeing regardless if we do them or not. However a key aspect that they all shared was community and a sense of belonging. They all knew each other, had a role to play, had strong family connection and were surrounded by the “right” people. By their tribe.
Somewhere along the way, we have become a society that doesn’t want to engage with each other. We shy away from talking to people, rush to the self service check out and avoid eye contact with strangers. A recent study has shown that only 50% would even recognize our neighbours. Is it media that has frightened us into talking to strangers? Do we simply not wish to engage with people in the real world? Are we embarrassed people won’t talk back to us? Whatever the answer and what ever the cause, something has to change and I truly believe we can make a difference.
With the increase in social media, we have started looking for other places to connect. Joining Facebook groups, connecting with people over Instagram. I get asked so many questions that people could google. I’m not complaining at all, but all this does is provide further proof to me that people would still rather reach out to a stranger than google because...connection! Don’t get me wrong, I think social media is an amazing platform and I feel so connected with people online, but we still need to maintain a sense of connection and community with the people that live around us. By doing this wouldn’t we create a safer environment? Wouldn’t we be able to look out for each other? If I knew a little more about the man next door then perhaps I would have realized sooner that he wasn’t around and he has been in hospital terminally ill. Perhaps I could have helped out. But I didn’t know. I didn’t know because I chose not to know. I want to know now.
For the last few weeks I have made it my mission to connect with everyone I encountered. A three minute conversation instead of walking by, heading to the checkout and making eye contact with everyone. Simple changes that I have made a difference. Barbara Fredrickson, a well known researcher in the field of positive Psychology refers to these moments as micro-moments of positive resonance.
Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
Connection comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s with your parents, your children, your animals and Pamela the check out chick from Coles. Meaningful connection does not mean you need to see the person regularly or ever again, or it could mean you see them everyday. Regardless, all of these moments of connection play a part and are just as important each other.
Listen. When you really listen, when you clear your mind of all distraction and listen deeply to what the person has said and how they say it you will make connections almost instantly. I learnt so much about people. Mostly I learnt how much people are willing to share if you just simply listen.
Talk with meaning. If you’re going to ask someone how their day is, actually care what their answer will be. Don’t ask out of politeness. Make eye contact, show interest and respond accordingly.
People are kind. We just have to give them the chance to be. Smile and they smile back. Often I had people complementing me on something and it was so lovely to hear. Within seconds, of listening and engaging we had created a space where people felt comfortable to share.
I have an excellent school/work community and I have a supportive family and for this I am so grateful. Many do not. Perhaps the small connection that I make with someone, the simple act of saying good morning and genuinely meaning it might make all the difference to someone else.
I challenge you to change one small aspect of your day to make connection. Appreciate your micromoments and the large impact that they can have on someone’s day. Will you say hi to the neighbours you don’t know, go through the register instead of self service, or simply smile and make eye contact when you run past another? No matter how small the change is, it will make a difference in your life and the lives of others.
We are all human. We all want to connect. Be the change.