In a world distracted by technology, guarded by computer and phone screens, automated teller and customer service options, bill pay and pay from the pump, a movement towards “working from home” and to “managing your own business”, the lack of human connection seems to be altering our family relationships, our romantic endeavors, our mental states. With the emergence of Valentine’s Day last week–and in accordance to my Sankalpa for 2019–I’ve spent the last week ruminating on how DO we encourage human connection.
Studies and studies abound prove that human connection make us happier, more productive, more generous, and overall, better creatures. A simple Google search for fostering “human connection” brings up ideas, such as giving others a hug or reaching out to touch their arm (physical connection allows us to feel our existence to be known), looking into someone’s eyes when speaking with them or giving a firm handshake upon introduction, engage in activities with others who have similar interests as you do,
But, what I wanted to know is–how do we cultivate human connection on an energetic level? What can I do in my interactions that will create that unexplainable, impenetrable, unbreakable connection to another human–that makes me feel deeply rooted in their lives, and leaves both of us feeling very, very fulfilled? How can I reverse all of the pleasantries, conveniences, and benefits this technologically driven society offers–to feel tethered to the bubble of collective human consciousness and to recognize the individual existence?
Call People: Because so much of our communication takes place via digital modes, I always feel like a ‘call’ nowadays means something serious–someone died, someone got in an accident, someone needs some kind of urgent information. But, this does not need to be the case–we could simply just call people because we want to chat (and inevitably, different conversational pieces will come up in this call versus just a text message).
I started calling people–rather than texting–a few months ago when I was feeling really anxious about responding to text messages. While it may sound silly, my anxiety stemmed from feeling pressured to engaged in lengthy conversations via text messaging–and as a kid who grew up with AOL Instant Messenger and T9, my opposable thumb is not necessarily the swiftest appendage I have. I find that when I call someone, I end up gaining more information than I would have with a text–I learn where they are, where they are going, what idiot they are driving behind; I can ask about their day and get real time, unfiltered information about their mood; questions that I didn’t even think I needed to ask, I’m now reminded to ask, and the phone call allows me to garner more connection than just a text message.
Use people’s names: Our names are our very first identifiers–how we distinguish ourselves away from “mom”, “dad”, “grandpa”, and Evil Sister Susie–how we know we are being spoken to, how we know the present under the Christmas tree is ours, how we know we made the cast/the team.
But, more than just that, using someone’s name communicates that, in this world of chaos and stimuli and constant bombardment of information–that something unique and important about them made a connection and stuck in your brain–that you found value in their existence that separated out whatever interaction you had to remember their name (even if they are just another Ashley, Taylor, Maddy, Alex).
The more time we spend on a concept (whether it be in its physical presence OR just simply mulling it over in our brains), the more memory associations we make, the more likely it is to stick in our head. For me, I’ve been working on learning people’s names through recitation–like your Olive Garden or Cracker Barrel server might do with your order–when someone says their name to me, I will try to repeat it back, (a) so that I can confirm that I heard it correctly and (b) so that I can begin that process of memory blocking. Then, I might ask a follow up question that will allow me to learn this person as unique and individual to everyone else–what fun thing are you looking forward to this weekend? where was the last place you travelled to? have you tried yoga? Sometimes, in the event my mind is already overloaded or I fear losing the name, I might jot the name down somewhere–the more connections I make, the better retention I’m likely to have. And, when I see that person again, I try to mention their name: “Its so nice to see you, Erica!”, “How are you, Jason?”, “This weather is extreme, isn’t it, Kyla?”
Ask deeper questions: In our society, asking someone, “how are you?” is a mere formality that often gets the automatic response of, “I’m good”, or “Fine”. In most situations, this is precisely where the conversation dead ends–because there simply is no follow up or way to extend. We follow many of these maxims in our language–set, prescribed ways in which we should respond or interact with each other–when we pick up the phone, we say, “Hi”, the caller then says, “Hi, how are you?”, and the receiver then responds, “I’m good, who is this?”. After a first date, our friends might ask, “How was it?”, and we respond with, “It was good. He is nice.” When giving the weather report, anytime the temperature expects to fall below 55 degrees, the newscaster is expected to say, “it is a frigid winter!”. But these set of prescribed questions-and-answers, socially constructed expectations of how to respond and how to interact with others often leaves the interaction feeling stilted, contrived, and unfulfilling.
In my conversations with others, I’m trying to ask less questions about “what do you do for a living?” or “what is your job?” or, “how are you today?” and rather, questions that get to the deeper make up of a person: “how would you describe your reading style?”, “Why did you find Bohemian Rhapsody so entertaining?”, “What was your favorite part of your weekend?”–so that our conversation can fall off the traditional, conventional speech patterns–and into the realm of individual space.
In these conversations, I’m also trying to follow up with more questions. Someone recently asked me, “Do you have any pets?”, and I responded, “No”, and then the conversation ended. However, had I responded, “No, we do not have any pets–do you have any pets?”, then it would have given the receiver of that conversation an opportunity to continue connecting.
(And, just as another side note–I’m also trying for the first question I ask to NOT be about someone’s job–we define ourselves so much by “what we do for a living” but there is also SO much more to a person besides what they spend 40 hours a week doing to make money…)
Express sentiments: “I’m proud of you”, “I miss you”, “I was reminded of you when”, “That made me giddy when you”, “I’m happy that we”…words do not come with an expiration date or a limit, but for some reason, we always keep these thoughts to ourselves. In our heads, of course, we may think these types of sentiments, but how often do we actually share the sentiment with others? I know that, on the receiving end, I’m always flattered and feel special when someone says, “I thought of you….” or “I liked that you….” or even notices a difference in my hair color, and because that person makes me feel all warm and bubbly on the inside, I, in turn, feel a stronger connection to them–and I want to spend more time around them (in hopes, of course, that I receive more sentiments).
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” -Herman Melville
(Featured Image: ET)