I love journeys. They represent a struggle, the determination not to give up. They indicate a path that someone followed, the movement of the soul from one place to another, a place of new realizations and achievements.
I believe in connections and yet, one of my biggest struggles is being connected. Connection means home, a safe place, company, love and belonging. Isn't belonging what everyone desires? But connections also mean fitting in, mingling, compromising, and being associated, bounded, and chained; the direct opposite of individuality and privacy. It arouses mixed feelings in me and I am not sure which I prefer.
I hated social media. Facebook was a riddle to me. I couldn't understand what had gone wrong with people and why they felt a need to share anything and everything unfiltered and un-prioritized, with few, if any, boundaries. Pictures of people laughing to the camera; frivolous banter; ensuring your friends don't miss out on your visit to the neighborhood cafe. Those were the early days of social media. People in need of communication were willing to say nothing of importance as long as it got them connected and made their impact by touching someone else and evoking a feeling, smile or thought. I think we have moved on as people have tired of useless content and are looking for more meaningful synergies. Times have definitely changed and the emptiness created in modern life has had to be filled with something that was previously satisfied by more unmediated social interactions.
Using social media, we started by connecting with Friends, we moved onto to Followers, and we will move again sometime in the future to a new, as yet nameless, format of connectivity. And to be honest, once you go beyond the privacy mania, sending your reflections out there to the unknown crowd with no name, no shape, no past history, bias or stereotype can be so liberating. We are all equal under the www wired roof. It is as if you are standing on a stage, spotlights on you, giving your best performance, but blinded by the lights, you cannot see the audience, if there is in fact one. Scary and at the same time magnificent.
It is not surprising therefore that research has shown the centrality of social relations to our happiness. One of the most important conclusions of happiness research is that there are many variables that determine people’s happiness: personality, health, and social relations at the forefront, followed by socioeconomics, living standards, and genetics, religion, faith and other means of self-transcendence or of looking for meaning in life, as well as other cultural factors. In one of the studies of extremely happy people, research found that good social relations were paramount to them. Our well-being improves when we spend time with friends; the well-being of both introverted and extroverted people is enhanced by social activities as well as from loving relations.
As much as one appreciates the happiness achieved by a rich and fulfilling social life, one also faces the individual/group syndrome which affects the choice of an ultra-sociable lifestyle. It is knowing what makes you happy but still not being ready to pay the price. It is, I believe, a question of finding the right balance. We each have a different scale with varying proportions of the components needed to shape our happy moments. For some, the more companionship the better; for others, time alone or time for individual creativity is essential for their well-being. Each of us needs to find our own specific frequency which will allow us clear transmission in and out of our private bubble. And until such time as this precise spot is found, we squirm uncomfortably inside our own skin. It is only when we are fully aware of our needs that we can easily communicate with others.
For me, being connected isn’t about being surrounded by people, having friends or belonging to a social circle. It is about deeper bonding, a meaningful alliance that reaches a level that represents genuine camaraderie and a source of belonging. This is not the same place for all of us: for some a friendly chat about the last shopping spree is enough; for others, without tackling the existential levels of the human struggle, the essence of life and the reasons for suffering, communication doesn't even scratch the surface of meaningful interaction.
Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." Experience has taught me, however, that it isn’t only black or white. Different minds come in a great variety of shades. Discussing only ideas will probably sentence you to a life of loneliness; discussing only people will definitely bring you close to the world of the tabloids. It is the individual balance of things that creates another degree of uniqueness; some would just call it chemistry. I am inclined to agree with Marie Curie who summed it up by encouraging us to just: "Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas."
And yet, as much as I try to keep away from gossip, I do love and respect people, and therefore, for me, it is the accuracy of relationships that makes it easy to pay the price. Meaningful friendships with love and belonging which are genuine, honest, and emboldening, those are the ones I want to devote my time and commitment to. I find it hard dealing with connections which involve feelings of hypocrisy, mistrust, resentment, discouragement, social comparison and envy. However, we are only human, and these feelings are part of our lives. Perhaps we can justify them by controlling the measure of bad energy around us, and helping others to channel their jealousies in such a way that they conversely inspire and encourage them to improve their own lives.
But, whatever our connections—be they the healthy and supportive kind or the rather more complicated and negative ones— it often happens that the people we are most influenced by are those with whom we have no personal acquaintance. We are often inspired by those our paths just happen to cross due to a willingness to go beyond physical presence and across the usual boundaries of friendship. These are people ready to open their hearts and minds and reach out to anyone who is willing to partake. It is troubling but true that the people we most care about are also those whose judgment and opinion of us bothers us the most, and therefore, they are, in so many ways, the ones preventing us from reaching our goal and purpose. Our vulnerability, manifested and constructed from shame, fear, and self-worth, radiates perhaps most from the friends who belong to our different circles of connections. We are not troubled by friends we can always count on and share our burden with nor are we bothered by those excluded, on the outside of the circles. It is those in the intermediate range that unwittingly become our source of weakness. A strong inner spiritual spine and a sense of self-worth are preliminary prerequisites for overcoming these debilitating thoughts and interactions. But it is also by overlooking these precious albeit questionable connections, reaching far and behind, that we can be released from the chains created in our mind and fly away to wherever our destiny and dreams take us.