The courage to maintain human connection

Human connection. It’s a struggle to know where to start isn’t it?

Take a look around at the bigger movements in this world. You see posturing and the language of conflict and opposing perspectives that could lead to World War 3 and you ask yourself, “How can I possibly be instrumental or do anything about this?” It’s so easy to stare open mouthed, to observe the apparent madness of it all and then retreat to our own world – the world we know – and in that moment we risk denying our power or giving up.

We all need human connection

I read a US research project followed a group of men who in younger years talked about fame, power, money as markers of success. And in later years one thing stood out – it was the presence of connection, a deep relationship that made the difference.

And we need that as humans – connection. It’s the foundation for trust, for collaboration for our ability to work and create things together…. to achieve results which surprise us because we didn’t know they were possible.

We feel the need and we yearn to feel connected and belong.

Connection is not as easy as it sounds

The challenge is that when it gets tricky (with strong opinions, ideologies, disagreement and conflict), it’s so easy to retreat into our own perspective, our judgments, our own need to be right. It’s a form of protection which disconnects us and leads to adversarial interactions.

What’s needed?

Confidence, permission and encouragement (which contains the word courage by the way). It takes us believing that inside every moment of struggle; of misunderstanding and disagreement there is a possible way through.
If we can stay open hearted and sit with the discomfort of not knowing how.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase,  just take the first step.”  (Martin Luther King jr.)

What is your “first step” to maintaining a human connection with those who you may disagree with? What are your practices or behaviours that you put into action that give you courage to take that “first step”?

Share your experience by writing a short note in the comments below – let’s build a library of practices together.

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7 responses to “The courage to maintain human connection”

  1. Jeremy Le Fèvre says:

    Staying curious to my own assumptions about others.
    Inquiring of others as to what sits behind their assumptions.
    Listening beyond what is said to what is being cared for.

    • Alyse Ashton says:

      Jeremy – thank you for adding to the conversation.  I completely agree.  I particularly like your phrase “what is being cared for” (that could be protection or maybe even that there is positive intent).

      Being aware that our “truth” is not the truth allows us to to recognise that we make assumptions.  Saying curious to our own and to others is a great practice (not always so easy in the moment and only possible if we realise that our thoughts/ interpretations and ideas are just that.  When we do that we have scope to free ourselves from the need to be right or judge others.

  2. John Watters says:

    The first step is noticing what I am feeling, think and my impulse to act (what I want to do but haven’t yet done). For example, I can think of a current tricky situation where I’m feeling angry, confused and upset, I think I’m right and they’re wrong, and my impulse is to withdraw/reduce the connection. My second step, (and this is largely internal work rather than outer activity at this stage) is to have a moment of self-kindness, acknowledge that this is tough for me and for the other person. Neither of us are perfect and we may each be making contributions to the problem situation (again a conversation in my head rather than spoken out loud). This creates a breathing space for something new to occur (in me) rather than feelings that lock down and translate into hardened disconnection. The third step is to ask myself much this relationship or issue matters to me? How much do I care? If the answers are positive then that can give me the energy and will to reconnect, despite the difficulty. Will is an underrated element of these situations. As Meg Wheatley’s work indicates this has to be a daily practice and in tough situations, an hourly practice.

    • Alyse Ashton says:

      I completely agree John ­ and the challenge can be catching yourself in the moment when you are triggered, taking a breath (or 3) so that you can consider what their positive intentions are and even acknowledge that in their context and position you might have done the same thing. You¹ve called out some of the things that help us to move out of judgement, right/ wrong and into the space of protagonist ­ recognising that we all contribute to and play a part in interactionsŠ and the results we get.

  3. Louie says:

    I check if I have the energy to stay with the pain (my bruised ego and ideals.) A tired body has very little bandwidth for challenge. I remind myself that people hold different values and that they come have a different context.

    Another practice that works for me is to notice when I hold my breath and start contracting. This tells me I am feeling unsafe which moves my being into a less resourceful state. I disrupt this by doing a super long exhale and opening my body. Doing this helps my brain to stay open and ask questions.

  4. Bella Mehta says:

    Hi Jeremy – great to see you pop up here, echo your comments and more than that, recognise that in your style (although it’s been a while :-)). Hope all is well.
    Alyse, I enjoyed your article, thank you. I liked the researched examples of how our ability/desire to be in connection shifts with our situation/time.
    Staying With. Dialogue. Presence. Wisdom. Bravery. Being ok with being wrong (i.e. learning)
    Trusting (a combination of holding my nerve and letting go)
    Remembering that perhaps how I/they are handling connection in that moment is the best I/they may have done in life so far
    Connecting through multiple channels – words, emotions, metaphors, images, song lyrics, myths, stories etc etc. Creative responses with a life of their own.

    • Alyse Ashton says:

      Bella Thanks for joining the conversation… your comment “creative responses with a life of their own” really resonated and caught my attention. It triggered another thought… only when we are fully present and the the moment are we able to connect fully and access all of those creative responses.. And everything that they provoke and inspire.

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