Designing your life can be as simple as an Eames Lounge Chair
The famous designer Charles Eames once said that the three most important words in design are “connect, connect, connect.”
Those could easily be the three most important words in life. The internet, cell phones, and Facebook are all connection tools, and we know how much we suffer when one of these devices goes down.
With so many powerful tools to connect, why is it that we have so much isolation and loneliness in our society? The National Science Foundation reported that unprecedented numbers of Americans are lonely. Sociologists from Duke and the University of Arizona have noted increases in “social isolation” and “a very significant decrease in social connection to close friends and family.”
If connection is one of the most important aspects of being human, yet we are becoming more and more disconnected in modern society, then what are the obstacles that are preventing us from connecting with others? And how can we remove these obstacles?
Who We Are
We all come into this world with programming that impedes connection with others. Psychologist Paul Gilbert calls these obstacles “built in biases.” According to Gilbert, we have “built in biases” for self, kin, and in-group. We tend to connect with those who are similar to us, those that are related to us, and those with whom share small group ties. Although these connection are important, they also prevent us from connecting with others who are not like us, related to us, or part of our in-group.
I notice these “built in biases” every day. When my son plays soccer, I tend to connect with him, his team, and other players who are Asian. This disconnects me with countless kids and their families. I’ve actually felt hate for seven year old opponents who acted in ways that I judged as unsportsmanlike or inappropriate.
The key to connecting with more people lies in shedding these “built in biases.” The first step to shedding these obstacles is noticing them when they arise. I notice how I immediately disconnect with others who happen to support a different political party, sports team, or religious leader.
When I notice these prejudices, I realize that I am responsible for the disconnect. I try to open my heart to others who are not like me. I try to see our common humanity. I try to have compassion for them and myself.
Being In a Rush
In a famous study, seminary students were asked to prepare a speech on the Good Samaritan, and then asked to head over to a different building to give the speech. On the way to the other building, these students passed a man sitting slumped in a doorway, who moaned and coughed twice as they walked by.
The study revealed that the students who were told that they were late to the speech were less likely to stop and help the man, even though they were giving a talk on the Good Samaritan—some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building.
I’ve noticed that Thanksgiving with my family has become less and less intimate recently. This past Thanksgiving, half my family rushed off early to take advantage of pre-Black Friday sales. When did we get in such a rush to shop for Christmas? The origin of Thanksgiving is all about connection, but now the holiday is being shortened because people are in a rush to save a few dollars.
The cure for this form of disconnect is obvious: slow down. I try to slow down every morning getting my sons ready for school. I try to slow down when I drive which prevents me from road raging and hating anyone who drives different than I do.
Talking Too Much
Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you talked a lot and they talked a lot, but you felt more estranged from the person after the conversation was over?
Of course, verbal communication is one of the most common ways we connect with others, but it can also prevent us from connecting with others. Before I start talking, I like to ask myself, “Am I talking to connect or for some other reason?” I often find that I talk to get attention or out of nervousness. I’ve also noticed how sometimes silence can connect us more than words.
You’ve probably heard it said before how few people actually listen. I want to be one of those few, so I try to practice what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “deep listening.” In deep listening, we are so attentive that we are able to hear what the other person is saying and what is being left unsaid. Deep listening leads to understanding which is essential for connection.
Remember that guy in basketball who was about the same level as you, maybe even a little better? Didn’t you hate that guy? I had no problems with guys who were way better than I was or guys who sucked, but the guy who was almost a carbon copy of me was the guy I wanted to cripple.
Competition is like the Civil War–it can turn brothers against brothers, best friends into enemies. We only have three rules in the men’s group I run—no competition, no advice, and no judgment. Judgment and advice are often the wingmen of competition. When we judge or give advice, we often place ourselves above others.
Competition can be healthy, but if we are constantly competing, then we tend to spoil numerous opportunities to connect. I like to have competition vacations. Sometimes I’ll hang out with my brothers without competing in any form. This includes dropping competition in athletics, finances, intelligence, or children. I find that these are some of the most enjoyable and bonding experiences I have with my brothers.
Obviously, this list is incomplete. My goal is not to pen the panacea of disconnection; instead, I hope to highlight the importance of connection and some of the things we can do to enhance all our relationships.
What do you do to enhance connections in your life? Please share in comments below.
Photo: Flickr.com/Kelly Williams