One of the values that Maryanne and I have put in our mission statement is that we work on connecting people to the communities they are in, whether that is their team, group or a faith community. The reason why we treat this value with importance is because loneliness is at all-time high, up to 40% of people now report feeling disconnected and lonely. Loneliness is a huge crisis; we now know that it is worse for your health than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Brené Brown is a social researcher with focus on courage, belonging, shame and vulnerability. In her book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, she talks about this disconnection as being the result of the political and social polarization and the fear of having difficult conversations with the people in our families and communities. Our disagreements with those closest to us leave us not just feeling like we don’t belong, but also create the self-preserving distancing from those we are closest to. Brown says that another thing that people tend to do when they feel disconnected is to look for a new community of those who are in agreement with their values. The surprising thing about that is that even then people still report high levels of loneliness.
The key to combating loneliness, according to Brené Brown, is first reconnecting with our own true selves and then finding a new way to belong to our families and communities by having courageous and vulnerable conversations with one another. Of course, that works best when both parties are willing to put their agendas aside and listen to each other with empathy and compassion.
Here are a few tips that can help you as you look for ways to reconnect with your community:
KNOW YOURSELF: Ultimately, we only truly only belong to ourselves. Thomas Merton, a famous monk, social activist and writer said that “We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love other.” According to Brené Brown, this is the first step towards holding a courageous conversation. If you know who you are, if you bring your best self to the conversation and know that no matter what the other person says is not going to change anything about your own worthiness and humanity, you will be less likely to react with defensiveness and anger and be much more open to listening and empathy towards others.
ACCEPT THAT IT WILL BE HARD: Having a courageous conversation is hard work, it is never easy, but it is well worth it! Don’t run away if things get hard, stay connected to who you are and what you are trying to accomplish and it will be worth all the effort in the end.
BECOME THE LISTENER FIRST: Listening to a person you are not in agreement with can be very difficult. If you are just starting having vulnerable conversations or you are unsure if the other person can commit to having a civil conversation, make it about them and become their listener. Ask them to tell you more about their fears, thoughts and hopes. Get to know them. It will allow you to build empathy and understanding where the person is coming from and that, in turn, will build your relationship. Being heard and seen is a great gift we can give to one another. So, if that is all you can do in a conversation, let it be at that and know that you have made the other person feel seen and heard.
SET AN INTENTION FOR YOUR CONVERSATION: First ask yourself: What do you want to accomplish through this conversation? What are you hoping to learn from this person? How are going to speak and listen? Talk to the other party about what you both expect from the conversation and how you will go about treating each other during your discussion.
LISTEN AND SPEAK FROM THE HEART: This is one of the restorative practice principles that Maryanne and I use as part of the guidelines for establishing safety in conversations. This basically means keeping a listening stance and speaking from your own heart, using I statements (I feel, I think, I like, I fear…), and being aware of your own reactions and defensiveness.
ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES FOR YOURSELF AND FOR THE CONVERSATION: If the conversation becomes unsafe for you, for example, if you get attacked or abused in any way, end the conversation right there and then. Let the other party know that you are not able to continue under these circumstances. A bad conversation is impossible to turn around without both parties’ willingness to do so. Talk to the other party about what went wrong and how it can be corrected, if they are willing to work on it. If they are not able to hear your concern, you know that this is not the person who is able to meet you with open arms.
We hope to these tips are helpful for you as you seek to have a new connection with those you may not know how to talk to.
What has your experience been with having these kinds of courageous conversations?