The 360º Look@Life™ Part 11: Social Life – Intentions & Connections

(Guest Blog originally appeared on http://thewealthsource.com/blog/page/2/)

I love this time of year.  My birthday is in a few weeks, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas and then the New Year.  Most people think of the New Year as a time to make resolutions.  My tradition is to make one resolution to myself on my birthday (more on that later).  It was wonderful to receive my first birthday card in the mail at the beginning of my birthday month. I looked at the sender- it was from a realtor we had worked with years ago. Rather than the computer-generated, actual-simulated handwriting on the envelope- she had handwritten it herself   (she has a distinctive handwriting that I recognized).  When I opened the card, she had also hand-written a lovely, personal note to me.  It was a charming gesture from someone who wanted me to keep her in mind for the next time I am ready to sell my home. I was so glad she took the time to make it personal.

So, it got me thinking about cards from celebrations past. How the perfunctory cards make me bristle!  It is so easy for busy people to simulate connection:  slap a mailing label onto an envelope that houses a sterile card signed with a printed name and send it on it’s way. What is the sender’s intention behind sending the card anyways? Maybe it is “I am thinking about you”. But to me, nothing smacks of the impersonal like those  “I don’t want you to take your business anywhere else” cards.  Why bother to simulate connection?

We are connection-seeking beings.  We thrive in communities, as a matter of evolutionary fact, we survive when we are amongst others.  So what kinds of connections are we seeking?  In my work, I see people get tangled up in what they define as the poverty of their relationships.  They mourn the loss of some and pine for the warmth of others.  When I ask them to define what connection means to them, they usually come to a place where they intertwine intimacy and intensity.  Upon further reflection, their definitions of relationships often can be categorized as: Relationships, Suppliers and Vehicles.

Relationships are people with whom we share history, an emotional connection, a physical connection, a context in time and/or across time.  They are family members, childhood friends, college roommates, mentors, battle buddies.  They are the ones who know us best and love us most.  Without those relationships, we would lose our knowing about ourselves.

Suppliers are people who offer us a connection to a person, a place or a thing.  We know them in a very specific context and their role is to satisfy a very specific need for some form of compensation.  They are fellow members of an association, certain co-workers, vendors, and acquaintances.

Vehicles are people who offer us a conduit to a person, place or thing.  Knowing them allows us to reach our destination to a supplier.  We don’t need anything more from them.  They are someone we briefly interact with.  They are the bank teller, the cashier at the grocery, the waiter at our favorite restaurant, the co-worker we don’t like but have to tolerate, the ex- (fill in your blank) we don’t like but have to tolerate.

It feels uncomfortable to write this, as it may feel to you reading it.  But it is difficult. None of us want to feel as though we are insincere or untruthful in our connections, and yet we are so in a very unconscious, socially accepted way.  So, if you were to look at the names on your Christmas card list, under which of these three categories does each one fall?  Which category holds the largest number?  Who are you investing most of your time and energy with? Which ones have you left (unintentionally or intentionally) by the wayside?

I know.  There is a little bit of self- congratulation and a little bit of gulp and shutter for each us in those questions.  While we may hope that we “shower the people we love with love” to quote James Taylor, we may also realize that the world comes off it’s axis when we spend too much time with Suppliers and Vehicles and not enough time in Relationships.  Suppliers and Vehicles are easy.  They are easy because they require little emotional investment. They should only require some of our time.  But when the world slows down and we find ourselves feeling lonely without knowing who to call, we realize that it is because we spend a large portion of our time with people who know us least and don’t love us.

So, what do we do?  It can mean making that trip to see Aunt Tilly in the nursing home, or picking up the phone to call your college roommate and catch up on the new and reminisce about the old.  But if we want to sustain and maintain the love and connection that fuels our souls, we will need to do make those calls, visits and reach outs on an ongoing, regular basis.  It means reaching out to Aunt Tilly with consistent phone calls throughout the month, sending a card (a handwritten one, no mailing label).  It means stay connected through regular, consistent communication. It may mean taking time to have dinner (sans mobile devices) with our spouses and/or our children regularly.  It may mean not canceling that lunch (again) with our good buddy for the sake of meeting a work deadline.  It may mean sitting with Aunt Tilly and lingering over a cup of cheer to listen to her tell the same story.

Because what is true is that we are never the same.  We change and our conversations change in relation to with whom we are interacting and where we are across time.  Aunt Tilly’s memory may include a new detail this next time she shares the same memory. But she will always remember that you came to linger. And you will always remember that you came to linger. The feeling from that will sustain and nourish you both.

We all want more time.  Some days we wish for more than twenty-four hours to get things done.  Some days we wish for something not to come to an end.  At the end of our lives, we wish for more time to be with those that we love, celebrate them, and share new experiences with them.  The wish for more time may not be in our control.  But the ability to make the time we have matter to ourselves and others is well within our reach.

Who are the people you are in Relationship with? Are they in Relationship with you?  What is your child’s favorite flavor of ice cream? What can Aunt Tilly tell you about you as a child that can make you a better parent?  What about your college roommate? Did you know they were struggling with something? It is hard to share intimacy with people you don’t get to build intimacy with across time.  Maybe cancelling lunch with your buddy again is not just lunch.  Maybe they were planning on telling you that they were diagnosed with cancer and during their time of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, they really needed the warmth that your Relationship brings to them.   What about those Suppliers? Do they know that you are interested in them outside of the business need? And the Vehicles? Do they feel like they matter? They may go through an entire work day without anyone noticing they are there.

Circling back to one resolution.  (It may not be your birthday month, but you can borrow mine.)  Find time each day to look at your calendar and see with whom you are spending your day.  Where can you include those Relationships? A Facetime chat for a few minutes, a text to a loved one, a phone call once a week to Aunt Tilly.  Where do you inject your humanity throughout the day? Is it a handwritten card to a Supplier, a ‘how are you’ to the waiter at the restaurant, eye contact and a ‘hello’ (without gritting your teeth) to the ex when they come to pick up your child.  Make a small, single, actionable resolution to find small ways to inject your humanity into your day.  You are worth it.

“Not all of us can do great things.
But we can do small things with great love.”
– Mother Teresa