“Appearance is something absolute, but reality is not that way– everything is interdependent, not absolute.” —His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
Spend five minutes on Instagram reading inspiring quotes and you can really feel empowered, confident and ready to conquer all. We love reaping our self-empowerment info and tools online, yet we often feel frustrated, fearful or confused in the real world when we think about how to actually match action and behavior with these ideas. How can we connect more through the real, actionable world?
First of all, science shows that even if we’re fearful of it, we crave to be connected with others in the outside, offline world– we’re wired to want to connect with others socially. Matthew Lieberman, scientist and author of the book, Social, says that when we stop performing a mental task not related to socializing, the reflex for social thinking comes back on almost immediately.
The part of our brain that identifies the “self”– known as the medial prefrontal cortex– is wired for social compatibility. The most “accurate” way to influence it is through direct human contact. Lieberman suggests that when it’s at it’s most active, it is then that we are practicing our best listening and when we focus on not what divides us, but what brings us together. In this sense, direct human interaction, at least for part of our time, is an essential ingredient to forming more sustainable social interdependence.
Cultivating Sustainable Interdependence
When we’re online, our communities can be perceived as somewhat “imagined.” Consider the recent phenomena of the Standing Rock experience. Some of us have been following along online for almost a year now feeling the emotion from afar, but never really having communicated directly with the offline, onsite community in North Dakota. Perhaps because of our common need for clean water, people who may not have ever met or come together did so and shared ideas out of necessity or, as Lieberman’s research suggests, simply because of how we’re wired when we interact with others in the real world directly. The variables that may normally divide us– regional issues, regional barriers, and economic status in this case– were dismissed to bring us together to cultivate sustainable interdependence; the solidarity to come together as a national community. The people who recently came together at Standing Rock listened to and cooperated with one another despite their everyday differences, likely under the influence of the prefrontal medial cortex!
Reach Out and Touch Someone… Literally
Two years ago my new year’s “pledge” to myself was to meet as many of my online Insta-friends as possible. I started reaching out, meeting people over cups of coffee and tea. Being present, offline, and immersed in someone’s raw, in-the-moment energy sparked a special connection that could not have been captured solely through the interweb. In my meetings we talked about what drives us, what inspires us, what empowers us, what troubles us, all with the experience of emotional forces– there were smiles, tears, laughs, furrowed brows, sighs of relief, and expressions of excitement. Fast forward to now and most of these people have become my friends, co-creators, and collaborators. By sharing space and energy together we’ve participated, built, foraged, and created.
By being vulnerable and listening authentically you’ll be surprised how much your confidence rises when you realize people are experiencing many of the same issues as you are. What divides you vanishes and what brings you together is your quest for understanding and accomplishing goals in a conscious, sustainable way.
Give your biology what it wants– get out in the real world and connect with someone.
Want to read more about the science behind our connections with the online and offline world? Barbara Fredrickson, contributor to UC Berkeley’s, Greater Good published a study last year that suggests smartphone use may be taking a toll on our biological capacity to connect with other people. Tell us what you think and how you stay connected to the community around you.
Christine Dionese, cofounder of flavor ID is an integrative health and food therapy specialist & wellness, lifestyle and food journalist. Christine has dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health by harnessing the power of the epigenetic landscape. She is available for both private and professional consultations. Please contact her here.
Artwork by: James Ormiston.