I wrote on Monday about the importance of connection, and how much of a difference it has made in our lives. Then I wrote on Wednesday about the barriers we face to connection. (If you haven’t had a chance to read these yet, I would really encourage you to go back and do so.) Today I want to finish this series by talking about how we can form connections wherever we are.
I’ve got a few suggestions that I’ve learned from the community that I’m a part of and from my work as a coach that I think can help us to build deep, authentic connections with those around us.
This is probably the simplest yet most counter-cultural idea for building community. When we bought our house as a new-build home eleven years ago, all of the pictures from the builder had these shiny happy people gathered around in the kitchen over a plate of hors d’oeuvres, but the reality in our neighbourhood – as is the case in many – is that most families rarely have people through the front door, much less have them join in for a meal.
It can feel super intimidating to walk through someone’s front door – and equally intimidating to invite them in. There is something vulnerable about sharing a meal with one another – about allowing another to see inside of your space or allow them to see your family ‘in the raw’. Many of us struggle with this to the point where we don’t even share our meals with those who live in our homes with us!
But if we want to build connections then eating together – whether it’s sharing a coffee with a neighbour during the day, grabbing a pizza on the way home from work and playing a board game together with the people we live with, going out to lunch with a colleague or meeting up for a drink with friends on a Saturday night – is going to be your launching pad.
There is something deeply powerful in the shared meal to bring us together and help us to see our shared humanity. Sharing food can help us bridge generational, cultural and social differences. Sharing food gives us something to do with our hands when we get nervous and an excuse to pause in the conversation in a way that isn’t the same as an awkward silence. And sharing food helps us rehumanize each other – which is one of the most powerful antidotes we can engage in if we want to counteract the divisiveness of our world.
We became a part of our present community because they were involved in doing something that made a difference – in this case, renovating a derelict rooming house downtown to turn it into five transitional housing units for women and children leaving the women’s shelter and waiting for long-term affordable housing.
Serving together gave us a shared purpose, reasons to connect regularly and a context to get to know each other in.
But it doesn’t have to be something this big to create community.
We’re also a part of a running group that serves one another by providing support and encouragement to each other to help each other meet their running goals. This group recently proved just how deeply connected they were when they collectively planned and orchestrated a ‘running wedding’ for two of the folks who had met and courted through the group.
Others might serve together through shared political action, through a shared sports team – theirs or a family members – or through a shared community space like the Y or an arts collective.
There’s no right way to serve together, but I think that serving is a key element to building community.
Regardless of when or where or what you eat together – regardless of where or how you serve together – at some point, if you’re going to have community it will require that you get vulnerable with one another.
Or, to put it another way, the depth of your connection will correlate with the depth of your willingness to be vulnerable.
As a society we tend to be very wary of vulnerability.
We’re worried that people will use what they know about us to hurt us.
We’re worried that people will judge us for what they know about us.
We’re worried that people will leave if they really know who we are.
But sadly in the midst of our fear we miss out on what a life powered by love will offer.
A world where people will build on what they know about to help us.
A world where people will understand us and accept us more deeply when they learn the story of where we’ve been and how hard we’ve worked to get to where we are.
A world where people will commit more deeply to us the deeper they get to know us.
There are, of course, no guarantees when it comes to vulnerability. Especially if we have been hurt in the past it can be incredibly important to go slowly enough that we can build appropriate levels of trust for the level of vulnerability we want to offer. But without vulnerability, connection can only get so deep, and we will miss out on the richness of love and safety that a depth of connection has the ability to offer.
Pay Attention – Make a Space
And finally, connection demands that we pay attention to one another. That we notice the little things that matter. That we call, text, message and show up to check in on one another.
Paying attention can happen while we’re out on a walk, doing the groceries or making a meal. Paying attention can happen over Skype or in the same room. But wherever we are, paying attention makes space to see the other person – to see their efforts and their successes, to see their frustrations and their failures, to see their pain and their elation.
Paying attention requires that we make a space for the other person to feel safe enough to be vulnerable themselves – extending connection from ourselves to the next person, ensuring that this gift of connection will grow and develop and be passed on over and over again to those around us, in an ever-widening circle.
Wherever we’re at – however disconnected or connected we may be feeling at the moment – we all benefit from community and the connections that it can bring.
Some of us grew up experiencing deep connections, and so find this comes almost without effort. But for those of us who don’t have that background, it’s not as impossible as we might have thought. Although it can be hard to overcome the barriers we face, there are simple, practical steps that each of us can take to deepen connection this week – wherever we are.
So be it grabbing a coffee with a friend, going and helping out the neighbours moving in down the street, sharing a little deeper with someone you’re learning to trust, or making a space to notice the hurt or excitement of another, I hope that you will begin to explore the power of connection this week.