The opposite of collective joy and collective pain is dehumanization, and we are in a time of rampant dehumanization.~ Brené Brown
… [T]he truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.~ Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War
A couple of weeks ago I realized that my phone was not lasting very long once charged, and instead of having to get a new one, I found out I could bring it in for a battery replacement, as it was indeed dying. It became more involved than just dropping the device off at the Genius Bar for an hour – I ended up having to go back three days in a row to have it resolved – but the two hours straight without it was unnerving to say the least: It was as if my link to being alive was cut off, and this was incredibly disturbing to me. Of course, I now have a new battery and my phone is refreshed and ready to text, email, photograph, talk, and mostly take on whatever Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook want me to pay attention to … #notaddicted?!
Prior to this tech episode, I had been through a pretty long stretch of very little interaction with folks who know me well. Of course there are clients and daily neighborhood exchanges (although my banker, whom I’ve hugged every time I go into my branch, just left!). These can be helpful points of human connection in their own ways, but connecting with a good friend or family member brings a different kind of nourishment that is generally much more nutritious and satiating
When I get into these cycles and start to feel relationally malnourished, one friend and I have a code word for saying “I know you’re busy and don’t have time for a long conversation or catch-up, but I really need to at least hear your voice and connect for a few minutes.” (Relationally malnourished, by the way, is a perfect metaphor I just came up with since loneliness is a condition as primal as thirst or hunger, and is now just as dangerous a health threat as smoking or alcohol, if not more.) That code word is “charge” – as in the bars in my soul are running low and I need to plug into another familiar human in order to get that percentage out of the red. I will text her and ask when she might be free because “I just need a charge.” It could be a 5-, 10-, 15-minute call to vent, discuss a particular issue, or anything, really, simply knowing we are linking up through our direct energy. It’s like taking a power nap – and then I can go back to my life feeling refreshed until a more luxurious, deeper sleep. It really helps.
I also have a deal with one of my brothers who doesn’t live in the city but works within walking distance of my apartment. He is extremely busy with his job and family, and he travels often, but he is one of my favorite people to hug, due to both his big size and big heart, and is the balm that I need from time to time to feel connected and loved. So sometimes I make a date to meet him outside his office or before he gets on the train for 10-20 minutes for the explicit purpose of getting a charge in the form of a big fat hug! #grateful
Just like monitoring your intake of food, drink and oxygen, connection is essential to human survival. We are an inherently social species and are becoming endangered in more ways than one because of this increasing perversion to our core DNA. And the condition of loneliness – which is a lack of consistent, meaningful connection, and a transient or temporary condition whose causes and effects I believe are more situational and physiological than mental – is becoming an epidemic; so much so that the UK appointed a Minister of Loneliness to study its pervasiveness and address it as a serious public health issue.
It’s the great irony of technology that so many people are feeling alone and isolated, because we have the appearance of being, and indeed are, more connected than ever, but generally only superficially. As with anything else, the internet and its accoutrements are a tool that can either enhance or hinder our lives, but the current reality is that many people are falsely assuming their “social” media consumption is like eating a home-cooked or delicious farm-to-table meal, when it’s really more like several stops a day at Mickey D’s. And just like our bodies would suffer on a diet made up mostly of Big Macs and fries, so goes our emotional selves and psyches that are chronically ill from these often crappy and distorted fumes of discourse and sharing that masquerade as genuinely satisfying relationships and interactions.
One way we can prove we are biologically wired to need human connection for our existence is by studying orphanages where children’s basic survival needs like food and shelter are met, but who are devoid of emotional attention, touch and interaction, and they become sick, autistic or even or die as a result. As adults in the modern world, we have to be more cognizant of and vigilant about this, as we can generally feed and clothe ourselves, and hence feel “fine,” but when we’re not connecting with other humans outside of the online world on a regular basis, we can find ourselves consciously or unconsciously depressed, anxious or sick at the least, and suicidal, brainwashed or radicalized at the worst.
We can see how this is profoundly affecting the fabric of society and creating even more “lone wolves” and people getting their sense of identity and belonging from an online tribe, especially if compounded by mental health or socio-economic conditions. It’s basically a tinder box for anyone on the outside who wants to manipulate us, and can foster extreme and irrational acts of violence and hatred.
Brené Brown, in this powerful guest sermon, talks about how we are living in a time in which “we have sorted ourselves by ideology into bunkers … and factions,” yet “the more sorted we become, the lonelier we are.” As it turns out, she says, “Behind the barricades of belief is not real connection – I think we just hate the same people.”
My life’s work, whether through The Women’s Mosaic or my coaching, writing and speaking, has been about helping people know, understand and connect to themselves and each other in order to create both inner and outer peace. There is no more urgent time for you to do the work to know yourself – who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing, as well as what you need to care for yourself, and take action or seek help when you need it. To acquire this self-knowledge requires introspection, which actually requires time ALONE; you just need to be mindful about using the alone time you have in a healthy way; to check in with yourself – your own thoughts and feelings – and separate them from what you’re shown or being told about how to think and feel, whether overtly or subliminally. This solitary activity is essential so we can come back to others and socialize in a meaningful way, and also be aware when we’ve crossed into the realm of loneliness.
Also, if you haven’t taken that time to build a firm foundation of knowing and checking in with yourself, the extremes of the religious and political spectrums, or even the cultural mainstream through Hollywood and advertising, would rather spoon-feed you with their agendas than have you think for yourself or question them – and you don’t want to be fertile breeding ground for anyone to grab hold of your mind or money. Besides, you gain a certain sense of dignity, self-sufficiency and confidence by doing your own observation and analysis, integrating what you know to be true for you rather than buying into someone else’s perceptions of what is right or wrong or makes someone dangerous, successful or powerful.
Only when you are solidly connected to yourself can you truly connect with another, and this is what the world needs now more than ever. Not quite sure how to charge your battery in order to cut through the BS and better bond with yourself and your buds? Give me a buzz and I’ll help you plug into the genuine juice that will make you both eclectic and electric, so instead of enabling the enemy, you’ll be able to excel in every way!
Kristina Leonardi is a career and life coach who helps people to make the most of their personal and professional lives, allowing them to recognize, connect to, and fulfill their role in the world at large. Known as a dynamic, inspiring and down-to-earth speaker with unique yet practical perspectives on the topics of career development, work/life wellness and personal growth, she has presented to organizations such as Saatchi and Saatchi, UBS, HR Association of NY, American Women’s Business Association, and New York’s Science, Industry & Business Library.
Kristina offers individual, corporate and group coaching privately, as well as in affiliation with The Muse and New York Women in Communications. She is the founder of The Women’s Mosaic (TWM), a nonprofit organization that produced over 100 unique events over 10 years for more than 2000 women of diverse backgrounds to connect to themselves, each other and the world around them. She holds a B.A in International Relations from Boston University, and has taught extensively for NYU’s Center for Hospitality, Travel and Tourism and the Center for Career and Life Planning. Kristina was listed as one of Hispanic Magazine’s Top Latinas of 2004, received Tango Diva’s 2007 Diva Visionary Award, was honored by the WNBA’s NY Liberty as part of their 2009 Inspiring Women Night, and has been featured as a career expert in Forbes.com, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today, Money and The Huffington Post.
Kristina is also the author of Personal Growth Gab (PGG), Volume One: Thought-provoking, inspirational and entertaining essays to keep you connected with yourself and make sense of this journey called Life, a beautifully designed and practically organized compilation of nearly five years of weekly blog posts that both stimulate and address the questions of who we are, where we are going and how we can get there in today’s rapidly changing, fast-paced world.