For more than 25 years Robert Putnam researched, interviewed, and uncovered evidence that people are becoming increasingly disconnected. His book incorporating this social research is titled, Bowling Alone. The title captured the truth; people were bowling on their own in their own lane instead of bowling in a group. Now in the midst of a pandemic we have all been forced to bowl alone. This article explores ways to connect in a disconnected world. We were wired for connection and will be served best connected in community.
What is connection? Connection is not simply a social media post, text, a ‘like’ on your page, or even receiving a letter or gift in the mail. A connection is how being in a relationship makes us feel.
I had a phone conversation last night with an old high school buddy and his wife that left me feeling very connected to him. It makes me sad to think I have not seen him physically more than twenty days total in forty years, but I am thrilled that our conversations leave me feeling a strong sense of connection with him.
Several times in my life I found myself moving from one home to another, and needing help loading and unloading boxes and furniture. Packing a u-haul trailer is no fun when you have to do it all by yourself. What I learned from those early experiences is that to have five or six friends show up to help me move, I had to show up a few Saturdays to help my friends move their stuff. I had to be a friend to have a friend. The same is true with connecting. To feel connected to friends or family, I must be willing to connect with them.
This means I need to be willing to be appropriately transparent. Connections are built on pulling back the curtain with a person you trust and allowing them to see something not everyone gets to see. When this mutuality and sharing takes place on both sides over time, you are well on your way to experiencing a deeper connection.
Who are the people in your life who make you feel important? The people who ask about something you told them the last time you spoke? Friends who listen when you talk and ask you questions about what you just told them? Are you the kind of friend who listens and asks follow-up questions? In your conversations do you make others feel valuable and important?
One of the resources available with We Grieve is an exercise titled, “Circles of Influence”. The exercise helps you graph the relationships in your life and measure the influence they have on you, both in terms of frequency and positive or negative impact. I would suggest printing out the exercise, taking a pen, and working your way through it. What you will discover upon completion is how many of your relationships are negative and draining, and how many are life giving and fill your tank when you connect with them. It will help you decide who to spend more time with, and who you need to spend less time connecting with.
When someone knows a lot about you, accepts you without judgment, and loves you without condition, you have a strong foundation with the potential of a valuable connection.
Creating a deeper connection is a step of faith. Pulling back the curtain with someone requires trust that they will handle your sharing as they would treat a valuable heirloom or their favorite prized possession. Because we do not live in a perfect world there will be times when you misjudge someone, and your trust will be broken. When this happens, it hurts and makes us want to retreat into isolation never to surface again. You have probably already been through that experience and know exactly what I am talking about. It takes courage to learn from the pain and at the same time risk again.
As a Chaplain I used a template for moving deeper in my relationships with people. Each topical layer of conversation moved our relationship a little deeper below the surface. I could also use it to measure where we were in the relationship by the topics we discussed in our meetings. Maybe you could use it to move your positive life-giving relationships to a deeper level of connection.
- name, occupation, city, recreational interests, hobbies, vacations
- family of origin, spouse & children, extended family, family dynamics
- faith background, spiritual vs religious, spiritual pain, anger with God, faith support
- anger, anxiety or worry, stress, grief, loneliness, heaven
- vision of next steps, future dreams, stuck or moving ahead, disappointment with life
When you cannot be with someone in person, you can maximize your connection by being willing to open yourself to a deeper level of personal sharing. Do this incrementally and only as your trust grows. Remember that for trust to grow a measure of risk is required. This exercise can be done with people at all levels in your circles of influence. The goal is to move away from isolation and toward connection.