At the 2016 Adelaide Writer’s Festival, I had the pleasure of listening to Magda Szubanski speak about her memoir. Among other things she posed a rather funny quip, something like, ‘if gay couples aren’t recognised by the state, perhaps they should stop paying taxes!’ I don’t remember the other details but there were a number of points I agreed with whole-heartedly, and I unintentionally let out a few ‘mmhmms’ while eagerly nodding my head.
Once the panel had finished, an elderly gentleman that was sitting on the grass nearby turned to ask me a question. I already had a sense that he was kind. In his seventies and wearing a broad sun hat, short-sleeved shirt and neat Sunday shorts this man seemed little like my own grandfather. He started by saying, ‘you seem to have connected with what was being spoken about just now, do you mind if I ask your advice on something?’
He went on to share the story of his gay grandson, who lived in fear of coming out to his conservative parents. The gentleman didn’t go on to ask a question in the end, and I didn’t have any solutions for him anyway. But the tears in his eyes made me realise how important it was just that I was listening. He shared a story of anguish and heartache, and being present with him in that moment was all that mattered. We sat together in his story for a short while, and then he was gone.
In her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness*, Brene Brown shared some research that saddened me deeply, and then fanned a red-hot fire in my belly:
Loneliness will increase your odds of dying early by 45%
WHAT THE HELL!!! This statistic seemed too incredible. How could it be possible? How could we be letting this happen? As I delved a little deeper into the 2015 meta-analysis Brown referred to in her book, I learned that the researchers supposed social isolation and loneliness should be listed as public health concerns, along with levels of physical activity, obesity, substance abuse, environmental quality and access to health care.
And of course, it’s affluent nations that are most affected. The people living in your community are deeply affected by this connection crisis. In my community.
Red-hot fire in my belly.
As with all social problems we hear about on the news, the reality of it can lead us on a downward spiral. First it cracks your heart right open. Next it leads you to despair. Then shame. Then you might start to feel numb, because it is just too big and too heavy. The next step – where we decide it isn’t our problem – is where intervention is required.
Red-hot fire in my belly.
We all know that feeling, where you just ‘have a great connection’ with someone… can you remember why you felt like that?
To help us explore this, I want to share a practical definition for connection with you. And yes, I’m going to quote Brene Brown once again, I can’t help it! Her social research and storytelling is so relevant and real. Based on years collecting interviews and stories, she offers this definition in The Gifts of Imperfection:
“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
The wonderful thing about this definition is that connection isn’t pre-determined by the length of time you have known someone for. Feeling properly seen and heard can happen with anyone. Actually, isn’t there something beautiful that becomes possible when you meet a stranger, versus with someone you already know?
When you meet someone that doesn’t have any expectation of you, there’s space. A slice of clear open space, and you’re free to be whoever you like. You’re free to give and receive without judgement. How nice does it feel when we can really be ourselves, say exactly what we think and have the other person listening intently? It’s the best!
Is it hard to do? Well maybe you need a little bit of courage at the start, but I believe connecting like this is in our DNA, and once we get going it feels more and more natural.
If this is something you would appreciate receiving from a stranger, how would it feel to give it back?
This is a call for awareness (hence sharing the dire statistics about loneliness), but it is also a call for collective action.
Every single one of us is responsible for this current connection crisis. When we see something horrific on the news, it’s so easy to say – well those people are bad, and I’m not bad. Not being a bad person is pretty good. And besides, that problem is far away. Things are okay where I live, and (most of the time) I feel safe here.
It’s not my problem.
I don’t agree. I believe that we each play a very significant role in solving the challenges of our world, no matter how far away they seem. You may not be able to make a difference to the conflict in Syria – but you can make a difference right where you are today.
When we are given the chance to be seen and heard for who we really are, the pain of our existence lessens. We soften. We feel legitimate in the world, and we don’t feel the same compulsion for fear to drive our behaviour.
We all have the power to be connection ambassadors, to lift people out of the isolation and loneliness that leads to fear-based action. And if we care about the state of the world, then it’s our responsibility to use that power.
We have all heard it many times; solving this BIG problem starts at home. It starts with tiny (teeny) acts of kindness, with your neighbour, the store-person, the lady at the Post Office. Leave behind the overwhelming feeling about how hard and broken the world is. Whether it’s the simple act of sharing in someone’s story of hardship, or giving a tiny bit of joy through your warm smile at the supermarket – it is all SO important. And we are SO capable of big change when we do it together.
If these ideas of openness and connection have been simmering away in your heart for a while, this is your sign. Take a mini leap today, and start showing up as your true beautiful self with every person you meet, and come along with us as see what can be achieved when people who care, connect.
Love & magic,
*Brene Brown offers a beautiful discussion about loneliness and connection in a Facebook Live about Chapter 3 of her book. You can watch it here.
**This blog was originally written for www.nikiita.co a whole year ago. Turns out it’s right at the heart of what Conscious Living Project is about, and my personal calling to do something meaningful in the world. Muchos alignment with how things have unfolded! Yay Xx