The art of connection

Kintsugi editor Al Reem Al Tenaiji looks at the human need to connect and why we should avoid living in the comfort zone

‘I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company’ Rachel Naomi Remen

Being social is a human imperative. Aside from the positive effects of touch and emotional connection, there was a point in time when quite simply if we weren’t social, we wouldn’t have survived. We relied on our tribes for survival and the instinct remains deep within us. Our brain focuses on our basic needs and being social is on the top of his list. As John Donne famously said, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself.’

We meet many people over the course of our lives. Some we like, others we don’t; often we may not even know why we have hit upon our opinion. For me getting along is great, but getting connected is what really excites me.

Deep connection goes beyond looks. It occurs as a response to that most magical of concepts: sharing. When we share intimate thoughts and feelings with someone, trust them enough to share our secrets, values and passions with them, our brain releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone), providing a rush of soothing, joyful energy.

However, while this can be wonderful, there is a risk in surrounding ourselves exclusively with like-minded people, as it creates a comfort zone. The more time we spend with each other, the more we are likely to adopt the views, mantras, quotes, hobbies and interests of another. In short, we adopt each other. In time, this can even influence our behaviours and decisions. Studies show that it’s very common for a group of people to turn into a nice little circle where everyone agrees and thinks exactly like each other. For me this is a dangerous place: nothing grows there.

‘When we experience working through challenges with others, we elevate these people in our lives as trusted advisors. We hold them in our minds and hearts as people we can talk with about everything,’ says Judith E. Glaser, chair of the WE Institute, who conducted social science research on the psychology of deep connection. ‘We listen to them differently. We consider their ideas and take their feedback with a higher level of openness than usual.’

Maarten van Doorn, a writer for medium.com, agrees: ‘The people you spend the most time with shape who you are. They determine what conversations dominate your attention. They affect to which attitudes and behaviours you are regularly exposed. Eventually you start to think like they think and behave like they behave.’

So we need to know that the people in our circle are the ones who are going to challenge us to think differently, otherwise we are just stuck in an echo chamber of what we already know.

This is why I like to surround myself with people who challenge me to think differently; why I will always welcome a well-rounded intellectual argument over flat-out agreement. Sharing, trusting and working through challenges with other people without fear of ‘loss’ enables us to get to the next level of greatness. It stretches our mental capacity. Jim Rohn once suggested that you become the sum of your five closest friends. Me, I have an inspirer, an accountability partner, an optimist, a brutally honest, and an empathetic listener in my Kintsugi circle.

It’s simple to work out. Write the name of five people with whom you spend most of your time.  Assign each a numerical value from 1 to 10, to calculate your average (with 10 being the most positive influence possible). How does each person affect your average? They don’t need to be Tony Robbins or the Dalai Lama, but they should make you a better person and elevate both your thinking and performance.

My mentor used to say that the best stories have great supporting characters. Want to have an inspiring story? Choose your supporting characters wisely.