One of the things I’ve noticed about getting older is my tendency to try and keep things neat and predictable. I often long for a life that requires few changes and gives me plenty of time to control my own environment. I get it that this is a pipe dream, but it’s also not what’s really best for me.
After a lifetime of living, working and playing with other people, I know at least a couple of things are true:
First, other people can make you crazy with their emotional ups and downs and their changeable lives, and second, without them, my own life may feel more in my control, but it is much less rich.
So, despite the countless times we may feel disrupted by our friends and family, the real beauty of life comes from connection.
As much as I might want to hole up and live my life in peace and solitude, it is by connecting with other people that I can see and experience the world as it really is.
And why wouldn’t I want to do that?
Sure, sometimes it drives us nuts having to put up with other people’s schedules and habits, but we learn about our environment by involving ourselves with it, not by retreating.
If we stand next to a stranger at a bus stop, simply asking them how their day is going can start a conversation. From those first words, the chances are very great that we will learn something we didn’t know before. Not bad for the price of a bus ticket.
To truly connect with another person, we need to listen – both to their verbal and their nonverbal communication. We need to see and feel what they are seeing and feeling. This is real connection.
With it comes an authentic understanding, not only of who that person is, but what it feels like to be him or her. As a result, we share on a much more meaningful level, and we come away from the interaction feeling as if we have truly connected with someone else.
As botanist and inventor George Washington Carver once said, “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.”
Each of these acts requires connection and results in connection.
When we are willing to see connections that we might not immediately notice if we’re simply going through the motions and engaged in superficial relationships, we get creative. If we let other people in, we almost always learn a new way to think or solve a problem.
If we remove our self-imposed barriers and let ourselves connect, we get to see unique ways of doing things and more significant links between people, ideas and relationships.
This reminds me of the old adage that “two heads are better than one.” I’ve rarely come up with a better idea or solution alone than I have with another person, even if I was reluctant at first to ask for help.
Making a real connection with another person can be the only mirror we’ll ever need. If I stay isolated from other people, I may feel as if I have more control over my environment, but I also have no way of really knowing how I’m being perceived and understood in the world.
If I am a little afraid of connecting or engaging, it’s easy to make up some strange ideas about the way people see me.
When I’m brave enough to have truthful relationships, it definitely helps me to see myself better and to understand how people see me. I certainly don’t have to change to please them, but it can help me to see parts of myself I might not be aware of.
Naturalist John Muir once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” This is true for people, too. When we meet the challenges of the world together, we have the history, wisdom and resources of at least two people, if not many more.
Avoiding these connections because we are tired or overwhelmed may make sense on an immediate, practical level, but in the long run, it’s the human connection that keeps us strong and moving forward.
What is the main thing that keeps you from connecting? How can you get yourself past that? What group or individual do you think you could connect with more regularly? Please ponder on this in the comments below.