The (Challenging) Secret to Feeling Connected

They say “good things come in threes” and I’ve reason to believe that maybe wisdom comes in threes as well. Let me explain. 

Connection and the bonds we have with other people is something I am very interested in and think a lot about – maybe because it's something that has never come easily to me. Three seemingly unrelated things in my life have recently given me a new reason to think about this and have led to some interesting insights I thought I'd share with you.

Daring Greatly - Brenee Brown

 First of all, I was reading Breneé Brown’s book “Daring Greatly” which is all about the importance of embracing our vulnerabilities and imperfections. Having long been a fan of her books and her writing style I wasn’t surprised that I loved the book. Breneé argues that key to living happy and fulfilling lives and having strong and meaningful connections with others is to, firstly, accept our vulnerabilities and to then be willing to show and share them with the people closest to us. She makes an interesting point in saying that many of us are very reluctant to admit weaknesses in front of others, but at the same time we often feel closest and most connected to those people who are willing to admit weaknesses to us. 

I can very much relate to this. I find it very hard to admit insecurities or weaknesses to other people. My instincts and reflexes always tell me to be strong and keep on smiling. But when I think about who I feel the closest to and who I care the most for, they are the people who have, at one point or another, shown vulnerability in front of me.   

Why do we think it’s a good thing when others show weaknesses, but we find it so hard to show ours? 

Reclaiming Conversations

 After finishing Daring Greatly, I moved on to a book a good friend had recommended and whose title intrigued me. "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age" by Sherry Turkle does a great job in outlining the impact technology and especially mobile devices and communication apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Text have on the way we communicate with each other. The book draws a somewhat gloomy picture of how the demise of face-to-face conversations in favour for digital messaging has negatively impacted our ability to connect with people, feel empathy and have real conversations – especially for the younger generation.  

I can’t say that I agree 100% with Sherry’s views which is probably partly because what she describes is not a reflection of my world and life. I grew up just before the digital age truly took off which means my childhood still revolved around real conversations and problems weren't discussed via chat or text but face to face. Smartphones weren't around until I was in my twenties, so I never had to fight a phone for my parent's attention. And even though all my friends have smartphones now, I can only remember a very few incidents when someone was on their phone during dinner conversations, and we all seem to be very happy to leave the digital world behind during long weekend trips of other adventures.

I don't think digital communication is causing issues or is disrupting or ruining face-to-face time in my life. But I can see how it might be a very different story for kids who grew of only 5-10 years after me or for groups of people where technology and smartphones are more prominent and valued then they are in my circle of friends.  

However, regardless of whether digital technologies are creating issues in one's life, I definitely believe in the importance and power of real-world, in-person conversations. 

Which brings me to the third thing that was going on in my life around this time that made me think about human connection. At the beginning of this year, I was lucky enough to spend three weeks on the beautiful Great Barrier Island, a remote island about 100km northeast of Auckland city. I was there together with a group of amazing people. Some who have been good friends for a while now, some who I had met a couple of times but wouldn't have considered close friends and some who I had never met before.

Even though it was such a mixed group people, I now, in some shape or form, feel closer to each one of them – regardless of whether they had already been good friends or whether I had never met them. And as I look back, I realise that’s because of the conversations we had. 

Great Barrier Island is a great place to relax and focus on the here and now. Cell phone reception is patchy at best and electricity is luxury so keeping devices charged is a challenge. And there aren't many other distractions either. Great Barrier Island is all about slowing down, enjoying nature and being present in the moment. There is a lot of time where talking to people is the only available entertainment, so you automatically end up have more conversations. It also feels as though people are more present during these conversations because there are fewer distractions.

Our camp on Great Barrier

Our camp on Great Barrier

On a typical day, most of us would split up in smaller groups during the day for different activities and adventures. But in the evenings, we would all come together and have a shared meal, usually followed by Chai Tea and a bit of chocolate or some other yummy treat. 

We cook together and eat together, all while chatting about our days, our lives and our values and beliefs. We learn new things about each other, even if we have already known each other for years. I love those evenings and the conversations that so often developed.

But when I think back to those conversations that really left me feeling closer and more connected to the person, I notice they are about more than just being there, face-to-face and being present.

The most impactful and meaningful conversations are those where both of us opened up and showed some level of vulnerability. 

I particularly remember a conversation with a woman who I've known for several years, but up until now, we hadn't had a lot of direct and personal interaction. One evening we started chatting, and she ended up sharing something very personal from her life that I hadn't known about before. I felt very honoured and grateful that she felt comfortable to share this with me and definitely feel that this conversation got us a lot closer.

As I was contemplating this afterwards, I thought how it is interesting that even though we had known each other for a while and had been to many of the same gatherings, this was the first time we had a personal conversation. Somwhoe, something made her want to share something personal with me now. It might just be the fact that we were spending more time together while on the island or the simple fact that the opportunity had never come up before. But I also wonder if it had something to do with me, without really being aware of it, showing her some of my vulnerability.

As the time, the latest draft of the book I'm working on was floating around the campsite. A friend had been reading it to give me some feedback and others asked if they could have a look – one of them being the woman mentioned above. Early on in the book, I share some very personal background information about my life, my journey and some of the obstacles I had to overcome. And I also share some of my insecurities and weaknesses. I can't help but wonder if reading this and learning more about me was one of the reasons why she felt comfortable to share something personal with me.

So as much as I agree with Sherry Turkle when she argues that spending time with people in the real world and have face-to-face conversations (as opposed to digital ones) are incredibly important for human connection, I also believe that the real value comes from opening up, letting our true selves been seen and showing vulnerability and weakness – whether that is in conversation or writing. That is what really helps us develop closer bonds and connections with people.

But for this to work, someone needs to start. Someone needs to be the one who opens up first, making the other person more comfortable to do the same. And this is where the challenge lies. 

We all want to feel connected to other people. We all feel closer to those people who open up to us and let us see beyond their brave faces and shiny armour. And yet most of us find it hard and scary to be the ones who open up first.

But if we want to truly feel connected to people, it might be worth following Breneé Brown's advice and ‘Dare Greatly'!