Do Connection

Yesterday I headed out to Lancelin and Gingin to drop off flyers and round up registrations. It’s not a particularly glorious job, but it is really important and an activity I find both very rewarding and moderately draining. I’m from the part of the world where driving should be avoided and anything longer than 45 minutes is a Road Trip. Quite the opposite to the culture out here in Western Australia where “Down the Road” can mean anywhere from a 5 minute drive to an hour.

It would make a lot of sense to just communicate through email and telephone, wouldn’t it? And yes, of course, I do rely heavily on electronic communications. However, the NBN is notoriously unreliable out here, and even with the increase of working from home thanks to COVID, anyone who has lived out in the country will tell you that nothing beats a face-to-face conversation.

So to pass the time driving from hither to thither, I’ve picked up a couple audiobooks from Brené Brown, the researcher/storyteller. If you and I were to pass each other on the highway, there is a rather good chance you’d catch me with tears in my eyes as I do my best to suppress the waves of emotion that accompany her stories about failure, heartache, and vulnerability. I recommend her books to everyone I meet and my coworkers are likely sick of me popping into their offices with my latest bit of knowledge I’ve gleaned from my last site visit.

Today I was listening to a section on Connection that tied in rather perfectly to the rumblings in my head. Social Media is a touchy subject for many people, including myself – sure it can be a handy tool, like a nice little campfire used to keep warm, but too easily it can get out of control and before you know it the whole bush is on fire with terrible comments and content and cyberbullying and melatonin imbalances and on and on and on. The Social Dilemma is a great resource to really scrutinize our relationship with social media, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sworn off twitter, deleted apps, or just logged out of my account on my devices.

Anyway, Brené talks about leaving home in year 4 and losing touch with her best friend, only to connect with her again 30+ years later through Facebook. They become fast friends again, staying up late sharing their lives and reconnecting where they left off. That connection wouldn’t have happened without social media, but it was the face-to-face experience of talking and sharing that was the meaningful moment.

So using social media as a tool in the project has been great! I get to document this journey and connect with people all over the Wheatbelt who I might not have otherwise met. Each workshop will have a private social media group that they can use to stay in touch and bounce ideas off of, but the goal is to use that platform to make plans for real connection. To get off our phones and computers and have a conversation with someone, continue working on their art together, or sharing a moment.

It’s those moments of connection that make life not so lonely, that gives us a sense of belonging and says to us “I’m right where I’m supposed to be”. Are you familiar with the differences between sympathy and empathy? I watched this clip about 5 years ago (also Brené  Brown) that describes the differences; a little fox is having a rough time. She falls down the hole saying “I’m stuck. It’s dark, I’m overwhelmed” and a bear climbs down saying “Hey, I know what it’s like down here, you aren’t alone”.

That’s empathy – someone feeling your feelings with you. Then a goat pops her head down and shouts “Ooof, it’s bad uh-huh!” and the goat just silverlines all the problems – “Your kid is failing school? At least the other one’s a straight A student” or “You had a miscarriage? At least you can get pregnant”.  That’s sympathy – sympathy is sweeping aside the pain and ignoring the chance for a shared experience. At the end of the video, Brené says that if we share something that’s really difficult, we’d much rather have someone react with empathy, sitting with us to share the pain for a moment – the last sentence sticks with me here, she says “rarely a response makes something better – what makes something better, is connection“.

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