Care, Connect, Contribute
In 1938, Sir Nicholas Winton started rescuing children from certain death in the Nazi concentration camps.
He singlehandedly brought 669 children from Czechoslovakia to Britain and connected them with families there.
Most of their families perished in Auschwitz. He never told a soul about his efforts and kept it a secret for 50 years until his wife found a notebook with the names and pictures of all the children he had saved.
Sir Winton cared enough to risk his life for children he didn’t even know. He connected to a purpose larger than himself and carried out his mission without need or desire for recognition. He contributed to the lives of 669 people who went on to live productive lives and raise new families of their own.
One of my heroes, Nicholas Kristof, is always showing up in places where few dare to tread, writing about topics most of us dread. It is not unusual to read a column about starvation in Sudan and Yemen, on sex slavery throughout the world, or about a brave young woman who stood up for her rights and made a real difference in the world. Last month he popped up in North Korea and challenged Kim Jung-Un’s administration. Now that’s what I all chutzpah. Kristof takes great personal risks and has the courage to write about what we would rather ignore. His mission is to get us to care about others, to help us connect with a larger purpose, and to implore us to contribute to the greater good.
While these stories are extreme examples about what it means to care, connect, and contribute, the principle is the same for all of us.
The blast of recent hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate), the Mexican earthquake, and the wildfires in the American Northwest, in spite of the devastation they left behind, have stimulated an outpouring of support from people around the country regardless of race, religion, or political orientation. People have shown that they care about others, they connect to their pain, and they want to contribute to relief efforts. These heroic responses demonstrate that it is possible to tap into our deepest human instincts.
In one of my favorite novels, Middlemarch, George Eliot wrote compellingly about the complexities of caring, connecting, and contributing in a provincial town in the 1800’s. In her penetrating description of the relationships of two couples who care deeply for each other, she reveals the difficulty her characters have in finding ways to connect with each other and to contribute to a larger purpose with their unique skills and values.
In regard to these core challenges of humankind, things haven’t changed that much in the last two hundred years. Most people still tap into reservoirs of caring, but have a difficult time forming deep and lasting connections and finding meaningful ways to contribute to the larger good. Some, sadly, only care about their own selfish needs, are only connected to their money mission, and contribute nothing to society.
In regard to these core challenges of humankind, things haven’t changed that much in the last two hundred years. Many people still tap into reservoirs of caring, but have a difficult time forming deep and lasting connections and finding meaningful ways to contribute to the larger good. Some, sadly, only care about their own selfish needs, are only connected to their money mission, and contribute nothing to society.
It seems to me that these three C’s represent the biggest challenges we face as human beings on this planet.
Who and what do we care about? To whom and what are we deeply connected? How can we best contribute to the greater good given our unique skills and values?
What does it mean to care? For me, it means paying attention, listening deeply, noticing appearance and behavior, demonstrating understanding, and responding accurately to another person’s experience. Caring has benefits for individuals and for organizations.
Caring for others enables us to tap into what makes us human.
In organizations, the biggest factor in employee commitment is the belief that management cares about the well-being and dignity of every person in the workforce.
Knowing someone cares has a big impact on attitude.
Caring is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for making a difference. I may really care about a person’s well-being but find it difficult to connect in any meaningful way. As we learned in Middlemarch, caring is not enough. Relationships grow or don’t based on the strength of connections people are able to create.
We can connect physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually. The strength of these connections vary over time as we age and evolve.
I believe the key to any relationship is to determine if the strength of certain connections outweigh the disconnects that are almost always present.
I may have a very strong physical connection with a person, but not connect intellectually. We may simply have different interests and be interested in different ideas. I may have a strong emotional bond with someone, but our beliefs and spiritual practices may differ greatly.
The goal is to be accepting of the differences and grateful for the connections.
In 1990, Barry Cohen and I wrote a book entitled Connectedness in which we discussed the different connections in our lives. We suggested that the healthiest people are able to connect to themselves (their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations), to others (their personalized experiences and goals), and to a higher purpose.
The strength of those connections enable us to navigate the inevitable turbulence we face in life.
Yes, caring and connecting are essential for full lives. No, they are not sufficient to make a lasting difference in the world. We have to translate our caring and connecting into a meaningful contribution. Sir Nicholas Winton saved 669 children from almost certain death. Nicholas Kristof exposes the underbelly of society and espouses solutions for the problems he uncovers. What can we mere mortals do to make a difference?
Contributing means taking the initiative to help — whatever form that takes.
People contribute by actively seeking ways to help others succeed.
They view the world interdependently. They open their doors as well as their hearts. They venture out into flooded waters in Houston and Florida to rescue their neighbors. They build bridges instead of walls. They invent ways to feed more people and to help countries become energy interdependent. They resist heartless measures. They speak up against hateful comments and despicable behaviors.
For me, it is possible to contribute physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Physically, we can lend a helping hand or donate to worthy causes. Intellectually, we can generate new ideas to seemingly intractable problems. Emotionally, we can offer support to people going through difficult times, reach out in time of need, and greet people with loving kindness. Spiritually, we can radiate joy and send healing energy.
In his new book, Thank you for Being Late, Thomas Friedman discusses how rapid changes in machines, markets and Mother Nature have accelerated our possibilities to connect and contribute.
Technological advances have enabled us to connect more easily to a global audience. The acceleration of change has increased so rapidly that connections are now faster, easier, and larger. The trick is to care enough to make them better. Friedman cites Airbnb as an example of using technology to connect homes and rooms across the globe with world travelers. Airbnb now has 3 million homes and rooms available from trusted identities with relevant reputations. This is more than the combined number of rooms available through Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood. These connections were made possible in 10 years through technology and globalization — and the idea that the founder cared about in the first place. In some ways, the world is more connected than ever. The remaining challenge is to humanize those connections through interdependent thinking and relating.
So instead of asking the Capital One question, “What’s in your wallet?”, I will ask the Human Capital Question: “What’s in your heart?
The answer to that question may not be a measure of your material wealth, but it will help you measure your immaterial essence and energy. I’m trying to live more fully in these three questions:
- Who and what do I care about?
- How deep and strong are my connections with the people and projects I care about?
- How can I make a meaningful contribution to my most important connections?
Care enough to connect with me and contribute to the conversation?
Originally published at Perspectives & Possibilities.