We are a relational species. Whether you believe in creation, evolution, or some mix of the lot, we are intrinsically relational beings. Creation tells us that in the beginning was relationship. Before God created the world, the Holy Trinity was in constant relationship. Evolution tells us that our ancestors survived not because of ingenuity or cleverness, but because of their ability to work together to conquer beasts and circumstances far fiercer than they.
Every culture in the world has myths and legends, and they all revolve around relationships. Every person is born wired for relationships.
And yet so many of us are lonely.
Despite being in the most connected time in human history where our ability to communicate not only spans any distance on earth but even distances off the planet, and despite so many having access to various mediums, technologies, and products designed to connect us, we find ourselves lonely. No matter how evolved our species claims to be, no matter how many revolutions and evolutions we have of culture, of mind, and of our social fabric, we still find it difficult to make deep and meaningful connections.
Almost a century ago, Dale Carnegie wrote an invaluable piece of knowledge into committed human history in the form of his timeless book, How to win friends and influence people. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend reading it, as it provides an almost too-obvious set of rules and recommendations for how to create the ability and space for connection with others. Written in 1936, the book is as relevant today as it was then, and has impacted millions of people in this past century.
And yet so many of us are lonely.
How do we make connections amidst all the noise? How do we find real, deep, meaningful relationship amidst the superficial facades of social media and social brand engineering? How do we cut through the layers of stuff that we think others expect of us and get through to the real human underneath it all?
Admitting that we desire real connection
First and foremost, we need to admit that we desire real connection, and that we don’t currently have it (or have enough of it). It’s a pretty hard thing to do, in a world where people regularly track the number of followers, likes, and retweets they’ve gotten on an hourly basis. With all those followers, with all these likes and faves, how can one possibly be lonely and lacking real connection?
Relationship researcher Brene Brown describes real connection as relationship that is based on vulnerability and trust. She further defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It is that exposure, that willingness to lay it out on the line, that ability to say “here I am with all my strengths and flaws” and know that we will not be judged but rather will be accepted; that is what creates real connection.
Why is it hard?
Real connection is hard to make because there’s a whole lot of fear and shame running around in our world today. One of the down sides of this hyper connected world is that there are so much more transparency into our lives and so many more points of feedback that can make any risk we take seem daunting. With the advent of social media, one’s social blunder that was experienced in person by a small few can quickly become the next viral video in our social circles, with hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people providing unsolicited judgment of our action.
That makes it really, really hard to put oneself out there.
In his Paris address in April of 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become the most quoted speeches of his career, which many have now taken to calling “Man in the Arena”. In it, he says:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Why we need real connection
Centuries ago, Confucius wrote that “It is nearly impossible for the quality of your life to be higher than the quality of your friends”. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn elaborated on this by adding an urge for us to “look at the five people you spend the most time with because that’s who you are”.
Our friends aren’t only there for our enjoyment, to shoot the breeze with, to go on life’s journeys with, and to revel and celebrate with. They are there to challenge us, to grow us, to sharpen us. They are there to refine us and help bring us back to the right path when we falter. They are there to support, to encourage, and to be a shoulder to lean on when we are weak. They are there to make us better because of the time we spend with them.
By connecting with others, by building real relationship that is built on vulnerability, on trust, on shared experiences, we allow others to breathe life into us, to shape us, and to mold us. In walking with others, we invite them along for the journey of self discovery and refinement, and are able to become better together.
If we want to have a great life, if we want to have grand adventures and rich experiences, then we need to ensure that the quality of people that we do life together with is incredibly high!
My sons, I want nothing more than for you to have great lives characterized by deep connection and by fulfilling adventures. Those lives must be lived with others in an environment that encourages trust and vulnerability. Those people are hard to find, and those relationships require work to cultivate. More importantly, being someone with whom others want to connect deeply with is hard work! And so my prayer for you is that you do the work, that you learn, that you evaluate, and that you continue to refine your perspectives on relationships and connection. And above all, my prayer is that you find those connections that will last you a lifetime.