Time to Connect:
How one simple thing can change someone's entire day.
An "Ah-Ha!" Moment
When I was at university I volunteered at a law firm to get some experience. On most days, we would cross a bridge over the river Clyde to get to Glasgow's Sheriff Court. Every time, without fail, there was a woman with a paper cup on the bridge, begging for change. Have you ever passed someone begging on the street and had that awkward feeling where you don't want to make eye contact? If you're feeling really brave, you might manage to mumble "no, sorry" while you scuffle by. That was always me, most of the time having no change to offer, and on the days that I did, I wasn't sure whether reaching for a pound or two is really helping the issue. I decided that the least offensive thing to do for us both was avoid the situation all together, or awkwardly mumble an apology and speed past.
One day I was heading over the bridge, and this time I was with one of the partners of the firm. I was getting ready to do my usual drop-eyes-and-mumble routine when the firm's partner did something I wasn't expecting- he walked towards the beggar, smiled, and said to the her: "Good morning, it's a beautiful day isn't it?". If you didn't know better, you'd think the partner of a law firm had a long term friend in the lady begging on the bridge. They were both clearly pleased to see each other. That was it, no money changed hands, only a few simple words and yet it couldn't have been any different from my awkward, mumbling approach. That was for me what Oprah calls an 'Ah-ha!' moment. Something within me changed in that moment. I understood that being with someone fully, in a genuine moment, isn't conditioned upon what you can give them materially. It's making a human connection. It's letting someone feel seen and heard. That is all. this isn't just about this scenario, it extends to all of our relationships.
When I studied for my Masters degree, I was so interested in how important this social connection was for people that I focussed my thesis around it. Did you know that neuroscientists believe that being able to connect to people around you is as important for survival as food and water? Not only this, but when we feel disconnected from the people around us (this is when we feel rejected, excluded, if we lose someone, or are seen as "wrong" by society), the same part of our brain that deals with physical pain is activated. This means that when you feel disconnected you feel real pain. No wonder when someone hurts our feelings we talk about a "pain in my heart", and no wonder a ballad about heartache touches something within each of us. Being socially connected is the difference between mental health and well-being, and isolation and suffering.
All of this might put the position of the woman on the bridge in a different light- by all means, if you feel that handing over a pound or two is right in that situation, then just go ahead, but a little bit of kindness is just as important. If you don't want to speak, eye contact and a smile is good enough. How does it make you feel when someone actually sees you. It makes you feel connected, right? And connection means you feel valued, acknowledged and enough. My sisters and I have especially come to benefit from this when we connect to so many wonderful people, from all different backgrounds through our music. To connect is the best feeling in the world.
Imagine if we all made an effort to connect to one person everyday? Who knows what the person next to us on the bus, in the street, at school, or at work is feeling or going through, and sometimes a "hello", or even just a smile, is enough to change the course of their day. Not to mention, when you make an effort to connect to someone, that means that you feel connected too (hello feel good endorphins) and your wellbeing and mental health benefits. Yes, putting yourself in that position can make you feel vulnerable, but thats the key to all of the good stuff- friendships, love, belonging and originality- so take the risk and dare to connect!
Today I want you to connect to someone. Say "hello" when you pass them, or just make eye contact and smile, whatever suits you. See how it makes you feel- and know that you are the change.