In the fall of last year, I tried to combine advocating awareness to a social epidemic that I am passionate about with my actual consulting work. At the heart of both is a promotion of relationship building and social awareness. So in a tongue in cheek way meant to inspire conversation, I named the joint project/business SocialBling. Considering how our culture only seems to want to talk about material things (bling) I thought I would promote relationships as an over-indulgent luxury. Everyone told me it was ridiculous ambitious. They were right, but I don’t have a fear of being wrong so it did not matter. The only thing I truly fear is being alone and I did not feel like I was doing anything that was promoting that fear so I pressed on. After all, how could someone that promotes the value of relationships as an essential element of well-being and success; who loves meeting people, helping people meet others and who loves to entertain ever end up feeling isolated? Now reading through that list I know exactly how. It is a simple equation of inclusion vs. exclusion.
No matter if you want it, think you have or desire it; control is a tricky little villain. In a battle for it, the chances that you will experience loss greater than anything you will receive are high. Loss comes in more forms than just financial. Loss can be emotional, physical and spiritual. When my opponent of control started to battle with me, I did not recognize the line was drawn. Had I realized, I would have been the first to call the fight with my withdrawal because in order for me to win, I would have to control actions of collected community and individual thought. Community is a tricky. We long for belonging but also want to be recognized. When you create a feeling of community it will always includes some people and exclude others. I knew this then, I know this now. All I want to do is help match up people with communities that best serve them but the deck is strongly stacked against me. Universally there are practices adopted by communities and passed on through the years by the new generations of people. We end up doing things only because it is the way it has always been done yet if we stopped to ask why, it might occur to us that these things no longer work or serve us. One of the practices I have never been a fan of is asking someone you first meet, “What do you do?” Now I flat out loathe this and will no longer politely answer. I am not sure of what I will do when I am asked the question but I do know one thing, I am committed to disrupting this pattern. I hate the question now because as I tried to conform and give a quick all-inclusive answer I have used words such as social media and social skills and development. All implies that I know more about something everyone struggles with which creates immediate exclusion.
Everybody has some sort of social phobia/uncertainty and very rarely do they want to talk about it. We fear judgment, rejection and ridicule. Whether you are conscious to it or not, these fears manifest in all types of relationships with people. This is a huge road block when discussing social media for business. Clients want social media without understanding the purpose or making real improvement in active (social) communication. One of my psychologist friends told me how he dreads telling people what he does in social settings because often people show immediate discomfort when they know as if they are afraid to reveal something about themselves for fear of being sized up. When I bring up social skills, I get the same reaction. I am hyper sensitive to those moments, I feel instantly uncomfortable as well. The other person and I are both denied the comfort of belonging and a warm feeling of connection. How do you recover from an abrupt end of conversation? The standard response usually comes down to fight or fleet. Sadly, I find myself fleeting. I don’t like to fight. I don’t believe either are lesser evil. They both are equally unhealthy. They both are spreading a virus of isolation that is killing off basic human connection, compassion and empathy. And guess what? The virus did not skip me just because I knew about its existence…
In my quest to explain what I do, I went deeper in studies and in my own thought, thinking that if I perfected my words I would connect people through understanding. As I grew increasingly impatient with myself for not having the right words, I stopped doing everything I loved to do: spending time with friends, going out, hosting events, meeting new people, etc etc. I turned to another love – writing, unfortunately this was not the best time for me to do so. It became a first priority equal to work with clients. I turned down every invitation I received and lost track of my friends. I invited the isolation virus in and it settled and spread. I am not comfortable saying I was depressed, so I tried to put on a happy face. Not that it really matter though, I was not seeing hardly anyone. I would sometimes find myself counting the hours or days that would go by without interaction with others. I stayed sort of hidden to keep people from finding out what was going on and I learned how to stay completely invisible in public because all though I was still interested in others, I didn’t feel like I have much to offer. Can I communicate without burdening anyone with my frustrations? I didn’t feel like or recognize myself in an awkwardly fitting mask of small talk, so I kept my words to myself. Those words build up in my head creating an overloaded spin cycle of ideas and thoughts that pumped out some pretty fierce headaches.
I wish I could say I am completely over it and use this confession as an opportunity to share how I personally overcame isolation but I am not there yet. I do know this; for me a life without social interaction is essential living a dead life. There is a certain awkwardness rising from the dead. I have a new understanding why all zombies have the same look of desperation in their eyes. Perhaps this is connected to my “fabulous” sunglasses purchases? In a strange way, I have become an involuntary narcissus. It is all about me because I am the only one in the picture. That thought alone confirms how sick I have become.
It’s Not about Me
Most things that make us sick are preventative. Because change is often very gradual, it is hard to see something that is bad for you until it reaches a point that you are forced to deal with it. Reversing the effects of damage is hard and always takes a much longer period of time to make it better than it did to create the damage in the first place. It does not matter if you are trying to heal a broken heart, recover from surgery, recover from lack of nutrients, lose weight or in my case – rejoin the living.
I would love to see some statistics based on the time people are spending being a participant with others vs. no human interaction. How much time are we spending on the computer and playing virtual games? If we are allowing little time to be in the company of others, gradually our communication and relationship skills decrease. We become intolerant when people don’t understand; we fear transparency and lose the ability to appreciate other people’s individuality.
When your sickness is social isolation your thoughts are paralyzing. You talk yourself out of everything you can do to interact with people. I told myself people are expecting more than what I can give them, they won’t understand, my expectations and my needs are so high right now I am bound to be disappointed and a burden etc, etc, etc…(this spin cycle is overloaded!) I could pay someone, a therapist to talk to but how is that going to help me? Traditional psychologists are taught to disengage emotionally and keep their distance. I can’t imagine how communication that is void of the warmth of connection is realistically supposes to help me feel less isolated. Read this post from the director of The Relational Center. They are champions for the fight against isolation and community engagement and point to traditional therapy practices as part of the problem.
Isolation breeds in unexpected places. I have always been concerned that decaying social and communication skills are connected to the inability to understand what is best for the common good. I see this as a problem in our government and in the businesses that try to govern our lives. I was thrilled to come across the video above titled, "The Empathic Civilization" that identifies the same concern and issues. I wanted to give kudos to the author and share his work with others. He lists his personal email on his site, so I sent him a request for an interview. I sent the note once, no response. I sent the note again, and got an impersonal/form-like response from his assistance. Really? Did the man who wrote a book addressing how “we need to change human consciousness for survival” just tell his assistant to blow me off? This is another part of the problem. We are a society of spectators, finger pointers and analysts. We are attached to roles, tasks and titles; not to people.
Interaction is crucial. I reflect on my interview with bestselling author and couples therapist, Harville Hendrix often. He told me that although problems between couples develop uniquely, there is nothing extraordinary about the problem itself. The problem is ALWAYS the couple lost their ability to communicate with each other. This is so important to remember. If you can’t communicate, you can’t connect. If you can’t connect you can’t create solutions. Without collaborative solution, it is every man for themselves. I don’t want to live in that world. I especially do not want to go through any type of mass crisis with a community of people who can’t communicate or practice empathy for each other. Harville gives the best advice I have found so far to help develop better communication skills (a three step process) that work no matter what relationship you apply them too. And by the way, notice he did give me his time for an interview…this lovely man is my guru in so many ways. Those social skills combined with active practices of engagement are the antidote for isolation.
Feel, Reveal, Heal
So what is next for me? I don’t know for sure. I am certain I had to feel what I am feeling right now. Things were pretty dark for awhile but I am sure I needed to be in it. I also know that I needed to reveal what I am sharing now. I am working on healing and rejoining project earth. I want to be a more patient time traveler meeting people, sharing and learning at every point of the journey. SocialBling is my passion project and it is as personal as it gets for me; considering how much I have changed in the last 6 months I know it will change as well. I am more committed than ever to bring awareness to social isolation and the need for engagement.
Before I posted this, I shared my confession with directors of The Relational Center. They have invited me to talk through this with them. I have decided to video that conversation and plan to share on my blog in the near future.
Reprinted from Author's blog