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Posts Tagged ‘connection’

A couple of weeks ago I watched a TED talk by Brene Brown entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” It’s twenty minutes long, but I highly recommend watching it when you get the chance. Brene Brown is a researcher who spent years studying vulnerability, shame, and human connection, and she shares valuable insights from her work and how it has affected her own life.

I’ve been seeing a common theme coming up this year, and it comes up again in this talk: that connection and well-being come from the inside, that they arise from our own beliefs and attitudes about ourselves.

I saw it in James Altucher’s post about Kamal Ravikant, who was desperately ill and miserable until he turned things around for himself and ended up writing a short book about the experience. His secret? He told himself that he loved himself a billion and one times.

I saw it in the reading I was doing about attachment styles. Apparently people with a healthy attachment style tend to assume that their needs will be met. And guess what? More often than not, their needs are met, one way or another. Part of this is probably because they are asking for what they need, and part of it is because they are attracting other people who are okay meeting some of these needs. The fact that they assume their needs are okay and will be met shows a greater sense of self worth.

And now here is Brene Brown, telling us that the one thing separating those people who experience a lot of love and belonging in their lives from those who do not is a sense of worthiness. When we believe that we are worthy of love and connection, when we believe that we are enough just as we are, then we can embrace our vulnerability, find our authenticity, and achieve greater connection.

And in her list of traits that these “heart whole” people have in common, she mentions them having compassion for themselves, because otherwise they are unable to have compassion for other people. This idea relates back to the Nice vs. Kind trap and one of the reasons being a people pleaser ultimately doesn’t work out so well.

At the end of last year, I wrote a post called “You are Worth It,” giving this message in yet another way.

This idea of worthiness circles back around on itself in a feedback loop. Take the recent World Fantasy Convention as an example. I entered into the convention feeling comfortable and like I belonged. Because of that, I was more relaxed, having a better time, and able to be very much Amy. So I could connect more easily with both people I knew and people I was meeting. Then people started joking that I knew everyone (not true, but thank you!), which made me feel like I belonged even more, and so made me connect more. Rinse and repeat.

Very Much Amy

The key point, though, is that the nifty cycle I described started with me. It began with me taking my career seriously and feeling like I belonged in a group of professionals. It began with me taking myself seriously, as a person worthy of respect. Without that, the cycle wouldn’t have had a chance to feed back on itself.

We talk a lot about authenticity: to connect with each other, and in a professional context, to connect with readers. This authenticity comes from the courage to be vulnerable. And make no mistake, it does take courage; this blog has taught me that. And here we find another loop: courage builds feelings of worthiness, and a feeling of self worth increases our courage. 

Let’s be brave together.

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People like to find a scapegoat.

Recent articles link the rise of loneliness in modern society with the use of social media, and although I have explored the idea before, I have become less convinced. Isn’t it convenient that we can blame technology, that behemoth with which we traditionally have an uneasy relationship, for the lack of connection we might feel? And yet, even if, as some figures suggest, Americans are now lonelier and have fewer confidants than in the past, there is still little data to show this trend is being caused by social media.

I agree with Dr. Grohol, who states: “[Using social media] doesn’t stop me from having those in-depth, face-to-face conversations, or put them off. I’m under no illusion (or delusion) that having a social networking circle of hundreds or thousands makes me more social.”

Instead, what social media allows us to do is maintain, in unprecedented volume and frequency, our weak ties. What is a weak tie? Someone who we don’t know very well, an acquaintance, if you will. By fostering so many weak ties, we are able to continue to expand our social networks and have potential reach to larger numbers of people, many of whom we will never directly meet or communicate with.

Obviously this is a major boon when we are, say, trying to sell something or build a reputation for ourselves or looking for a different job. But it can also be valuable because of the different insights and opinions we are exposed to, the potential actual friends we might meet, and the recommendations we might receive. Not to mention the benefits of being able to keep in touch, however superficially, with friends and family who live far away.

However, it’s not hard to see how social media might appear to make us lonely, especially if used as a kind of social substitute that it isn’t. If I am already feeling lonely and then I hop onto Facebook, the odds that spending half an hour reading my “friends’” status messages will make me feel any better are fairly low. But I have noticed a certain irrational expectation in myself that seeing all those photos and clicking “Like” a few times will magically pick up my spirits. Note to future self: that doesn’t work! Go out and see someone instead.

It’s interesting to watch ourselves learning how to deal with so many weak ties at once, a feat about which we are only now gaining experience. I like to think of social media as a party: a few of your really good friends are there, which is especially awesome. Then there’s those people who you’ve been seeing at these parties for years, and that’s the only time you talk to them. And there’s the newcomers, the people you don’t know so well but it’s interesting to chat with them for a few minutes. Except this is happening all the time on your computer, not just for three or four hours at a scheduled event.

And just like at a party, most people are trying to present their best selves. Many of them will keep their dirty laundry and deeper troubles mostly under wraps. A few of them might have embarrassingly public meltdowns. We’re surprised when  the perfect married couple announces their impending divorce, when that vibrant woman turns out to have been suffering from a life-threatening disease, when bits and pieces of messy life burst unavoidably out into public view.

And social media is very much the same. We are presented with a smooth and managed facade, and sometimes we forget the facade does not always reflect what’s going on under the surface. All those people in your social media networks who have perfect lives with adorable children and exciting jobs and exotic vacations? Maybe her child vomited all over the living room this morning, or that exciting company is going through a round of layoffs, or that exotic vacation meant forty-eight hours of pure, unadulterated suffering from food poisoning. Some people show this underbelly of their lives, but many choose not to. It’s the way weak ties work. And as depressing as all this seeming perfection can occasionally be, we mostly find it depressing because we are not used to weak ties; we haven’t internalized the knowledge that these public statuses are only a small percentage of the whole. We believe, often without question, the stories people choose to tell about themselves.

The societal shift we are experiencing is certainly not without its difficulties. But social media, and the internet as a whole, are just technological tools like all other such tools. Sometimes we use them skillfully, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we lack the understanding of how such tools work or for what they work best. Sometimes we’re not very interested in trying them out at all.

But I suspect loneliness arises much more from our physical environments and the strong ties that we either have or don’t have with other people. Strong ties that are fostered by face-to-face interaction, video chat, phone calls, and the exchange of letters and emails. Blaming a tool meant for developing weak ties for any trouble with strong ties seems misguided at best.

What do you think? Do you have less in-person conversations or strong ties because of the advent of social media? Have you been able to develop strong ties as well as weak ties through a social media service? How much does face-to-face time matter in your close relationships?

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“Loneliness is the endemic disease of our time.”

My husband broke out this sentence last weekend, and of course, my response was, “Where’s my laptop? I need to write that down.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence: at its most basic, the state of being lonely and all it entails, the idea of loneliness as a disease (and a widespread systemic one at that), and whether loneliness is more prevalent now than it has been in the past.

And once I add in the context of the conversation, which was about social media, there’s even more to think about. How does social media (Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, forums, online dating, etc.) affect loneliness? Does it make us feel more connected and satisfied on the whole, or does it, by diluting our pool of friends and sometimes encouraging quantity over quality and surface over depth, make us feel even more lonely?

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. Even if I examine my own personal experience, I’ve had both positive and negative reactions to social media.

The Bad:

1. Hearing about a party that all your friends went to, to which you were not invited, is not so fun. On the plus side, this means that when the party comes up later in in-person conversation (which it inevitably will), at least you’re not blindsided and can respond with the appropriate blasé remark.
2. Reading the never-ending stream of advice and opinions about writing and the publishing industry can be draining and kill my own inspiration and ability to work. I imagine this is true in other fields as well.
3. Time sink. Enough said.
4. Having a lot of Facebook friends is not the same as having friends who form my support network, with whom I have a private and personal relationship. And yet, sometimes Facebook distracts from the need to maintain those deeper relationships.
5. Friends’ internet time is not equal, so I will end up with more interaction with those friends who check their social networks frequently, as opposed to those friends with whom I have the closest in-person connections.
6. Social media makes me feel like I know what’s going on for people, and it makes people feel like they know what’s going on for me. Which is great, until I start to think about all the things I never say because they are too private for public consumption.

The Good:

1. One of the reasons I love blogging so much is because it allows me to use social media in a very content-heavy way, helping me balance the whole breadth vs. depth issue. Plus it gives me the chance to be a conversation-starter or to respond in depth to interesting conversations begun by others.
2. I am able to keep myself very informed and up-to-date on any of my interests or career concerns.
3. Social media makes it easier to reach out and create or find a community of like-minded individuals.
4. I can stay in at least nominal touch with a lot more people than I could have even ten years ago. Contacting someone out of the blue is also a lot less weird than it used to be.
5. Getting multiple birthday wishes (and having an easier time remembering and acknowledging others’ birthdays) makes me happy. Yes, I love birthdays.
6. Sometimes social media is great entertainment, pure and simple. And I love the way it lets people share content.

On the whole, social media makes me feel more connected, as long as I remember that it’s not a substitute for in-person time (or e-mail for those of my friends who aren’t local). What has your experience been with different forms of social media? Does it make you feel more or less isolated?

On Thursday, I’ll be exploring the idea of how loneliness fits into modern American society, and why it might be on the rise.

UPDATE: An interesting recent article on how Facebook helps people overcome shyness. It ends with the insight that some users become more lonely because of Facebook.

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