The Power Of Human Connection
Why genuine human connection is important now more than ever.
Since the American Presidential Election in November, most of us have been in a daze. It took me a good two months—until we were treated to the spectacle of the Inauguration—to even fully comprehend what had happened. And, despite attending a march or two, signing a gazillion petitions, and making monthly pledges to every organization that I think can help, I haven’t done much to affect a real change. Partly I feel powerless and, on my tired days, my cynicism takes over and I lose my sense that there is anything I can do to alter the course of things. But even in the midst of my negativity, one thing seems manageable and actually workable: connection.
Connecting with the people in our lives, or even with strangers we meet in the grocery store line, has not changed the politics of our nation or the potential disasters that very politics might create. Still, it gives me a sense that I am not alone and it shows me—and hopefully everyone to whom I speak—that we have more in common than we know. If I suggest that the woman behind me in line should go ahead of me since she obviously just ran in for a loaf of bread, it demonstrates kindness and empathy. I have no idea whom she voted for in November, and it doesn’t matter. What is important is that we are two human beings scrambling through our lives, hoping for some soft spots here and there.
I’ve witnessed the power of connection in my personal life, too. When my partner and I are tense and defensive, if either of us remembers to just stop pushing and start really listening to the other person, the mood changes. I realize fairly quickly that I’m no longer interested in fighting for whatever seemed so important a moment ago and that taking in what she is saying and feeling is what matters most.
There’s no doubt that someone reading this is rolling her eyes at this moment. “Who on earth thinks about connection when you’re in the middle of a fight?” they’re surely wondering. And I don’t mean to make it sound easy. What I do mean is that there is real power in moving ourselves from an angry, sarcastic place to one in which we can take down our dukes, remove our armor, and just be present with other people.
When I was in my 20s and 30s, I was sure that everyone I met was anti-gay. The result of this attitude on my part left me either livid before we’d had our first conversation, or I would slink away in shame, hoping we wouldn’t have to engage. It’s easy to see the ineffectiveness of either approach, but it never occurred to me in those days to just let people see me and hear me as I was. It also wasn’t in my mind to listen to their experiences. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how many people are homophobic because of ignorance or simply because their parents were. Listening to their story and them listening to mine didn’t take anything away from either of us. In fact, it added to each of us, whether we knew it that day or not.
On my next birthday, I will be closer to 70 than to 60, a fact that is almost impossible for me to fathom. As with most women my age, one of my strongest feelings is wanting to experience as much as I possibly can in the next 25 or 30 years. The bucket list contains a lot of trips and experiences, but it is also filled with a huge desire for authenticity and connection in all areas of my life.
I lived in the closet until I was in my early 20s. That was more than enough time to be shielded from other people, disconnected from true feelings and experience. I want to spend a summer in Paris in this part of my life, but I also want to feel as if I understood the people in my world. I want to know what they feel, what scares them, and what excites them, and I want them to know that about me. Once, in an interview for a job supervising other people, regardless of the question, I remember answering: “Well, I would talk to the people about it.” Honestly, I have been blessed with an awesome life with ample resources and opportunities. If getting to truly, seriously, honestly talk to people is all I ever did again, I would say it was a good ride.