So, who or what did you like today? How many times did LinkedIn ping you, telling you who had made a new connection or who had posted something new? Do you find yourself checking your email just to see who’s thinking of you or to distract yourself from the tasks of the moment? How many of us have evolved into people who send our “Thank You” notes via email, or birthday greetings through the use of those electronic cards with the animated illustrations and perky little tunes?
Have you noticed how rare it seems to be that we mix with the neighbors, welcome newcomers to the street, or gather together to assist those who live close by to repair their houses or maintain their properties? Are you telling your family you love them via text messages? Wishing your mother could learn how to use e-mail? Spending hours sitting side-by-side with your colleagues or partner, working silently on your own computers, with barely a word shared between you?
Do you, like me, ever wonder about this world we live in — one in which I sometimes know people only in an online sense, having never met them in person or heard them speak out loud? I share my ideas and opinions with thousands of people each week, but I have no empathy for their situations, no understanding of their lives, little care for their actual circumstances.
I’m so busy running my virtual life that I’m feeling drained in my fl esh-and-blood life.
According to Sherry Turkle, the MIT professor and cultural analyst who wrote Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, “we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”
And yet, given the opportunity, most people report a desire for more real connections in their lives. They hanker for conversations that have depth, work situations that involve true collaboration, and friendships with people who are loyal and honest. We want communities that are economically strong, safe, collaborative and caring, and yet we have lost our way. Many people are not sure how to create the circumstances in which they really want to live.
In his May 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” writer Stephen Marche notes the astronomical increase in the number of therapists, counselors, life coaches, and other professionals who are now paid to listen. “The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis,” states Marche. “This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.”
So, what can we do to rebuild the relationships we want? How can we start to invest in communities of caring and collaboration that foster authentic connections between real people? This is not a message about tuning out or turning off; technology is part of our lives. Rather, I’d like us to consider opportunities in our current activities to become a little more connected to those around us. Can we fi nd deeper sources of meaning in our new, technologically enhanced lifestyles? Can we ensure that our professional practice supports true connections instead of just relying on our fast-growing virtual world? What are the baby steps to reconnecting on a more meaningful level?
John McKnight, founder of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University, provides interesting insights regarding our community connections. Strong communities and organizations focus on the gifts and skills of their people. In business, we are often taught to look for the flaws or weaknesses of an organization or individual and determine ways to fi x them. By contrast, McKnight recommends identifying the unique attributes, skills or gifts of an individual, organization or community, and working to enhance those gifts.
Consider asking what unique skills your organization can contribute to your local community — to help it thrive and grow. You might consider an exercise to describe your company’s personality or brand, and how can you make sure that your clients, employees and community can experience this personality in some way other than just through sales or marketing. How do you connect?
Organizations, communities, and individuals can reclaim their own power and make positive changes when they stop waiting for others (elected offi - cials, hired professionals, etc.) to do it for them. Let’s stop complaining about being disconnected and begin to build healthy environments to come together and create our own possibilities.
Lisë Stewart is founder and director of Galliard Group, a training and consulting firm specializing in family-owned and closely-held businesses. She is a nationally recognized author and speaker who draws on her 25+ years of experience to share practical advice for ensuring sustainability of family businesses.
Contact Lisë at email@example.com
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