A couple of years ago, I was in a post-masters clinical chaplaincy program with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in San Diego. While I was there, we were tasked with contributing a publishable work on clinical chaplaincy. As I spent time working through my encounters with patients, I came up with a paradigm for understanding how as people we get access to other’s true selves – their core, or identity. So I developed this that could be used to understand an individual’s level of connection to others in any given situation. In an inverted triangle, it went from top to bottom: Daily Activities, Roles, Authenticity, Identity, & Meaning.
The idea is all of us perform from the top down externally and from the bottom up inside. And the connection we have with others can be pegged to one of these places – the way we relate to others can be categorized. I would argue that lives where we express ourselves and are reciprocated on the bottom rungs lead to a significantly more meaningful experience than those of us who find it challenging to ‘dig deep.’
All of us must perform common daily activities like brushing teeth. We all perform in certain roles, as a parent or what we do in our jobs. Yet the most meaningful encounters I had at the VA were when my role as chaplain and their role as patient dissipated into the mystery of our encounter. As we were able to reveal who were truly were, together, from our very different backgrounds, we were being authentic. And as we let down those walls, the true issues we needed to deal with were able to rise and without judgment we could explore those areas.
I tell you all of this because I was sparked by a video I saw on Facebook last night where the writers told us that as we become more connected with more friends, our relationships suffer because of their research that shows people can only meaningfully connect with up to 150 people. After that, there is degradation in quality of relationships because we can calculate what we show others, thus only showing a well thought-out slice of our lives – the best pictures, a well crafted status update. You know what I mean. And for my purpose we are showing a role, not a true self.
It seems to me this video points perhaps a bit (for me) back to my paradigm. On Facebook, there really isn’t the space for authenticity to flourish. It’s too dangerous. If we actually posted what we really thought about some people, the lowest common denominator could argue a point above their capacity and frustration could ensue.
I wish I had a solution for this, but I do not. My hunch is that in our particular place in time, more effort needs to be placed on just being with people, unscripted and unplanned. Seeking out friendships where our nuances and peculiarities can be raised – friendships where we can bring our deepest convictions without judgment. In the world of community development, they coined the term relational meeting. It was merely a meeting between the developer (often Christian) and another like a city leader, pastor, etc – but it was designed to be unscripted, last around 30 minutes, and not have any particular agenda. Agendas would likely emerge, but they occurred on the think tank effect of being together.
One of the video’s points is more people are saying they consider themselves ‘lonely.’ And if this is true, an obvious answer would be to get out more, right? But our culture has made it more challenging to do this.
I was frustrated by the video’s lack of constructive advice on how to solve the problem, so here’s mine. It seems then we need to intentionally create the space for quality relationships to flourish. We need to put a few things higher on our list of priorities. We need to seek and value deep personal friendships at the expense of posting a lot, even if married with kids. I’ve found small groups in some churches to be a good place to build relationships. Meet-ups can be a great way to connect with folks, but the bottom line is we must be willing to let others in on our world for us to truly be connected. And I am convinced deep connection is crucial to a growing mind and spirit and living a happy and productive life.