Make America Connect Again
Are you happy? No, really. Are you?
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this for what is probably the 5,087th time, but we are in the midst of extremely polarized times. We stand as a nation divided. Along religious lines, racial lines and political lines. And yes, a certain someone who recently took the helm of this country might have exposed the unsightly underbelly of these issues, but it’s always been boiling under the surface.
Here are the cold hard facts: we are a country of self-involved, stubborn people. We are number one on Geert Hofsted’s list of the world’s most individualistic societies. We fend for ourselves before helping others- sometimes even at the expense of others. We’ve forgotten the thing that makes life worth living. Connection. Unadulterated connection with our fellow human.
Okay, so who the hell cares right? I get it. It’s the American way. Pull yourself up by your gladiator sandal or whatever. But this loss of connection is affecting us. According to the 2017 World Happiness Report -yes, this is a real thing- despite the fact that the United State’s income per person is on the rise, our happiness hasn’t increased since the 1960’s. In fact, it’s falling. The report points to social rather than economic crisis as the culprit.
Let’s unpack this social crisis a little more. While Washington DC is busy squabbling over the economy, the divisions between we the people continues to grow. Variables of happiness such as social support, perceived corruption of the government and perceived quality of freedom are left hanging in the balance as a result. So basically our trust in the government is deteriorating and our communities aren’t providing enough structural support to foster flourishing citizens.
So what is there to do in the midst of all of this? Well I’ll tell you what’s not going to work: sitting back and waiting for the smoke to clear and happiness to emerge out of the wake of all of this chaos. Now more than ever, it’s time to give the power back to the people. You, yes you reading this post, can make the difference this world needs. And no, you don’t necessarily have to storm the capital or head up the next Salt March. All you have to do is get in touch with your own compassion, empathy and vulnerability.
I know, I know. The best of us have a hard time rolling over and exposing our softer side; understandably so in such a harsh world. But here’s a little secret: research shows, this is the path to true fulfillment and happiness. Added bonus: it has the potential to make the world a better place for all of us!
Scholar and research professor Brené Brown spent years “hacking into” our brain’s hard-wiring to learn more about human connection. “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives,” she said in the intro to her TedTalk, the Power of Vulnerability. Brown goes on to discuss shame, the enemy of connection. She acknowledges how hard it can be to confront our shame. But, in her research, she found that true connection only happens when you transcend your shame and your fear of rejection.
Brown talks about those she interviewed who felt love and belonging. They the “wholehearted”, as she dubbed them, had three things in common: the courage to be imperfect, the compassion to be kind to themselves and others and they had connection as a result of authenticity. Oh and one last thing: they dove headfirst into vulnerability. Brown emphasized that this was neither comfortable nor easy for the wholehearted. “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. Really seen,” she said. And through this practice, they indeed found love, belonging and an incredible ability to empathize with others.
Empathy. This is how we’ll change our world. This is how we’ll send out a definitive message: we will not let our happiness slip into the gaping abyss dividing our nation. We the wholehearted will stand together. We will build a bridge between the great distance between us all and take back what’s rightfully ours.
Okay but how do we become more empathetic people? Que visual representation…
Empathy is realizing that your beliefs are just that: Yours. A lot of us walk around with our own scope of the world and assume everyone is looking through the same one. That’s the catch. If empathy is a key component to healing our nation’s divide, honey, it ain’t for the faint of heart! Remember what Brené Brown said about those who felt love and connection? They have courage. It takes guts to look at someone you don’t agree with, to peek away from your own scope, and try to understand them. But it will be completely necessary in the struggle to win our happiness and our connection back in the United States.
Look, I’m not asking you to agree with those who dwell on the other side of the divide. You don’t even necessarily need to like them. But clearly throwing flaming arrows back and forth isn’t cutting it anymore. We’ve only been doing that for the last two centuries or so and look where it lead us. We need to have the courage to say , “Hey, I completely disagree with you. But I still see your humanity, even if you don’t see mine.” It’s about being the bigger person. It’s about being a good person in a world slowly succumbing to the bad ones.
So try it next time Billy brings up a hot-button topic at the company BBQ or the next time you get confronted on the free speech zone on campus. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe you’ll make a new friend! Or maybe your kindness won’t be well received and that person will continue to lead a disgruntled, close-minded life. But I guarantee you’ll be better for it. So be vulnerable. Forge a bond with someone on the other side of the divide. It’s time to make compassion cool again. It’s time to Make America Connect Again! (Patent Pending)