How Do We Create Connection?

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How Do We Create Connection?

Gripping the handles as I hiked along the stair climbing machine, I looked over and noticed the guy next to me sharing this journey to nowhere. I noticed he was wearing a hoodie representing a local university which we both supported. The name of the university isn’t important and would distract from the point I’m about to make. 

Both of us there, stepping and sweating, trying to achieve a personal goal, and sharing a mutual interest in the same university and — I assume — their athletic program. He also, no doubt, understood the struggle their football team had gone through this past season. Having lost two players, tragically, and then coming together, in solidarity, to create one of the best seasons in school history. I took this as an opportunity to say something in an effort to connect with him.

As we started talking about the team and their season, I noticed how we both began to step faster and with more intention. It was as if we both felt energized by the conversation. The conversation shifted to life and then personal experiences. We both worked in similar fields of interest and the conversation really took off from there. It ended with us exchanging articles about similar areas of interest, and then contact information. It was awesome. His name is Reggie and I’m grateful to have met him. 

I can’t help but think: What if I wouldn’t have said anything? What if I just kept my mouth shut and went on with my day? How often do we avoid or neglect opportunities to talk, to listen and understand each other? To connect with each other? 

My life has been consumed by a deep desire to experience that feeling when we have an interaction with each other, when we really see each other, when we truly connect. I can’t fully describe the feeling when this happens. How I feel, physiologically, tells me this is a good thing!

Here’s how it feels:

I get the chills. I literally get the chills and a warm comforting sensation throughout my body. Goosebumps included. My eyes start to develop tears. Tears of joy. I feel a comforting sense of calm and peace. It’s complete craziness. I know. It’s also a sweet emotional moment where I know this is a good thing. It’s healing and only reinforces the fact, for me, that we are here for each other and this is what humanity is all about, supporting and connecting with each other.

And now, today, I feel an even deeper drive and need for this. Our world appears to be so divided and disconnected everywhere you look. Did you hear that? I said it appears to be. 

It’s important to remember that word…Appears. I say this because there are forces at play trying to promote this message. Working to get into our heads and stir things up, poking the bear. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m just sticking my head in the sand, ignoring what’s happening around me. I know there are terrible things happening each and every day to good human beings. I’ve found myself outraged and appalled at our capacity to mistreat each other.

Maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but you have to admit the things we do and say to each other can be shocking.

Whether it’s in the news or on social media, we can get sucked into situations and debates very easily. Our heart rates skyrocket, we feel anger and anxiety, sadness and hopelessness,  just from reading or listening to something we saw or heard. Remember when I talked earlier about how connection feels for me? Well, this is the complete opposite feeling.

I admit it. I don’t always do or say things that promote connection. I get angry and frustrated. I can be judgmental with the best of them. I can also feel self-righteous about who I am or how I live. If I’m honest and truthful with myself, I can also see why I’m thinking and behaving this way.

It’s me. It’s my own stuff. When I think, feel, and act this way, it’s mostly because of my own issues or thoughts in my head. Placing the responsibility or ownership on myself hurts, at first, and I push back against this realization. This is a natural response. We don’t like to think of ourselves as the instigators or source of negativity or harmful actions. Nobody I know does.

Here’s the great thing about this: We become aware of our part in creating, adding to, and supporting a negative or divisive environment. Why is this a great thing? 

The great thing about this realization is that we can do something about it. Unlike most of the things that happen around us or people we interact with, we have little, if any, control over them. With ourselves, we have complete control. We have choice over our attitude and actions. 

Now, you may be thinking about extreme scenarios and situations where people just act or do without thinking, or if someone was on drugs, etc. I’m talking about the majority of the time, when we are just going throughout our day, completely sober, and doing our daily thing. We are the captains of our ship. We are the ones who create the way we see the world. Only us. 

You may say, “What about when someone does something outrageous or we hear these terrible things happening? Who’s creating those things? Not me!” I agree. You may not have created the horrible thing or situation, but you can absolutely choose how you respond to it and the power it has over your thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

We can’t give up our power to the world around us. There’s too much at stake.

For one, we can become apathetic if we believe we have no power to make a difference. I know I just said we have little or no control over the people and things around us. What I’m talking about is us. How we show up, each moment of every day, can have a huge impact on the world around us in ways we don’t always see or realize. 

Go help someone with something. Go listen to someone. Be a friend or a supportive co-worker. You may not think it has an impact or see the “ripple effect” of your actions. They do make a difference and, often, they can become contagious. Like when people perpetually pay for each other’s food in the Starbucks drive thru, or when you see someone picking up litter and then you do it too. Giving a damn and an effort does make a difference. The corrosive and corrupt people of this world are counting on our apathy! They depend on it. It helps them keep spreading and doing the negative things they have done for a long time. They are also people. Hurt people tend to hurt people. 

My point is that you never know if your actions will help someone who is actively doing things to hurt people. You could restore their faith in humanity through a simple act of kindness. It’s true. We only believe it isn’t because we may not see the effects or impact of our compassionate actions.

Another reason to take ownership of our actions is that it helps us understand the struggle of doing the right thing versus the easy thing. It’s easy to judge, cast blame, and make excuses. All of which keep us trapped in this comfortable illusion which doesn’t improve anything, including us. When we own who we are and how we show up for the world, we can create more empathy around this process. It’s definitely a process. We are a process. We’ll never be perfect or achieve perfection. It’s about the journey to do so. 

When we experience failures and mistakes, we are given an opportunity to learn and grow from them. We can also develop empathy for those around us who do judge, blame, and excuse themselves. We understand this journey and recognize they are on their path. It’s their path, not ours, and we can be a non-verbal example or source of support for them along the way.

Again, we are here to help support and connect with each other. There’s a cycle to this process, as humans. Wash, rinse, and repeat. For us, it’s try, fail, learn, and grow. We must give ourselves a break and be kind to ourselves as we do this. The more we do this, the more we progress through this process. We understand more about ourselves and, as a result, understand more about each other.

Creating deeper levels of understanding allows us to really see each other, which leads to deeper connections. As we connect, we see our humanity and similarities. Practicing this moves us towards a mindset where we, first, try to understand and then move towards connecting. It can become a habit if we allow it and work towards it.

The result is a shift in how we see each other and the world. We even start to believe differently. We learn and realize everything we see and hear isn’t accurate. We begin to question things and have conversations about them. We focus on understanding and connecting, working to find solutions, instead of arguing and finding ways to create divisions.

The power of connection can transform so many aspects of society. When we open our hearts and minds to see the humanity that exists in the vast majority of humans, we allow so much that is good about life to enter into ours. Connection is the key to shifting how we think, feel, and act. It’s part of what makes us human, it’s in our nature to form a community. It’s what has helped keep us alive. The cross-sections of culture and diverse viewpoints plays into our favor. We innovate faster and create so many amazing technologies together.

Our future can be bright and expansive. It’s our ability to connect with each other that will make it so. Now is the time to reach out and see yourself in the mirror of another human being. We are reflections and projections of each other. Let’s talk about who we are, what we have learned, and how we can grow together. We can do this!

Connection isn’t about ability, it’s about desire. Be willing to take the first step and then the next.

Embrace the process and you will be embraced:

Awareness. Challenge. Change. Learn. Grow. Evolve. Repeat.

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