Since the bombings that have occurred in Austin, I have really started to think about human connection. True connection. I happen to live in a neighborhood where two of the bombings happened and it was terrifying for obvious reasons. Fear was the biggest emotion to consume me, however, as I sat with this fear and explored it I began to think about the others who may be sharing this feeling with me, my neighbors. As I thought about the people literally closest to me, I had a realization: I don't know who is living next door to me, across the street, down the street or anywhere in my vicinity that could be sitting with this as well. Yes, I know their faces, their cars, their general schedules but that's it. As I sat with this a little longer, I began to wonder what it would have been like to know them before, during, and after these events. Could I have or would I have walked next door and checked in on them? Would they have checked in on me and my family? Would we be sharing our feelings together? I know I am not alone in this because others have shared a very similar story.
So what does it mean to know that I am not the only one who does not know who they live next to? To me, this is a very large sign that we need to CONNECT with each other--our neighbors, our community. We live in such an isolated society, even though we are more "connected" than ever because of social media. How does this even make sense?!?
Many of us are using social media platforms to share tiny bits of information about our lives with others in order to "connect," but in reality, we are distancing ourselves from REAL LIFE-- from TRUE CONNECTION. Could you imagine knowing your neighbors' names instead of knowing what that person you met once at a networking event is eating for dinner? Or knowing what your neighbor does for a living instead of knowing where that person from high school went on vacation with their "perfect" family of four (you also know each family member's name) that you never really liked anyway? Maybe you do know what it's like to know your neighbors, so you may have insight on this, but if you don't, what do you imagine this could look like? What do you imagine this could look like when there is danger nearby? Just the idea of knowing the people that surround my house causes a shift in my body to feel a little calmer, feel a little safer.
I recently finished the book, Lost Connections, by Johann Hari, and there is an excerpt I want to share with you because it has really resonated with me in the wake of the Austin bombings. In this excerpt, Hari is writing about John Cacioppo's research on the effects of the outside world on the brain in regards to loneliness:
Protracted loneliness causes you to shut down socially, and to be more suspicious of any social contact, he found. You become hypervigilant. You start to be more likely to take offense where none was intended and to be afraid of strangers. You start to be afraid of the very thing you need most. John calls this a “snowball” effect, as disconnection spirals into more disconnection. Lonely people are scanning for threats because they unconsciously know that nobody is looking out for them, so no one will help them if they are hurt.
YES. So much YES. As I read on in the book, I learned that this can change. With a little bit of effort, this snowball effect of loneliness can be reversed through face-to-face connections. By having conversations with your neighbors, your friends, and your family, you can decrease loneliness and feel safer. The great thing about neighbors. specifically, is that you have many opportunities to connect with them since they live in such close proximity to you. So, why not begin the connection with them through conversation? To give you a chance to feel a little safer and a little more connected.
For those with social anxiety, I see you. You can do this. I can help you or you can find someone that can help you. For those who do not have social anxiety, please be aware that human connection may be scary for some, but you can be there to help them when they are ready. We are wired for connection, y'all.*
*It has taken every ounce of me not to quote Mr. Rogers, so feel free to do so now.