There was once a time when we were taught that modern technology will bring us all closer together and that we’ll have a global community that shares common goals. Thanks to the internet, now it’s so easy to go online and share your opinions. But it didn’t turn out so well. Why? Because now it is easier to find people who have the same opinions as you, join their group, and separate yourself from the rest of the world. This may sound good at first, but it is actually the number one reason why the feeling of loneliness is skyrocketing.
I felt loneliness in its intense form when I moved to America to study for my Ph.D. I remember thinking to myself, only if I find a group of nice people, then I wouldn’t feel lonely. That’s exactly what I did. I found a Christian group and joined it. Everything was great, for a while. I was surrounded by tons of people but something wasn’t quite right, there was no personal connection. It was like people were trying to fit into that community. Like you either are one of us or you’re not one of us. And as you may guess, it didn’t end up so well for me. I started feeling even lonelier than before. Since then I’ve been really searching for an answer on what it really means to truly belong. I finally found the answer in this book, Braving the Wilderness by Bernie Brown. Brown says that to truly belong, we need to have the courage to be ourselves and be willing to express what's in our hearts. Loneliness may feel like the new order in the world, but there is a better way. Bernie Brown is perhaps most famous for her TED talk on the power of vulnerability, which has over 30 million views. She's a research professor in the areas of courage and vulnerability and I think she got the answer we’re looking for. In this video, I’ll share with you five key lessons that I learned from reading her book.
Key Lesson #1: True belonging: being your authentic self
We all want to belong somewhere. It is a need that all of us have as humans. We want to be part of something real, genuine, and something larger than us. We often approach this quest of belonging by trying to fit in, perhaps by not speaking our truth or by taking actions that are meant purely to gain social approval rather than coming from a place of authenticity. We can't always take the safe route. At times, we need to stand for what we believe in, even if this makes us feel uncomfortable. Brown says that true belonging doesn’t come with just joining a group, it is not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It’s about having the courage to speak our truth and be our authentic selves while also maintaining our connectedness with others. We need to combine courage with vulnerability. We can connect with others without having to hide who we are or what we believe. But at times it can feel very scary. But remember, there's only one of you in the world, you must learn to honor who you are and what you believe and stand in your truth. And from that place, you can seek a sense of belonging that is true to you.
Key Lesson #2: The loneliness crisis: the importance of social connection
“The world feels lonesome and heartbroken to me right now. We've sorted ourselves into factions based on our politics and ideology. We've turned away from one another and toward blame and rage. We're lonely and scared. So damn scared.” Brown highlights the increasing isolation that many people are feeling today. She cites a sobering statistic that only 20 percent of Americans reported that they felt lonely in 1980. Yet more than 40 percent feel that way today. Our feelings of loneliness have doubled in a very short time. And it's not just Americans who are feeling this. It's an issue that's spreading globally as well. This topic is an important one. And it can be particularly helpful for those of us struggling with the issue because loneliness is not a topic that is talked about very openly. Brown explains that “We feel shame around being lonely as a feeling lonely means there's something wrong with us. We feel shame even when our loneliness is caused by grief, loss, or heartbreak.” Another important point that Brown makes is that there is a difference between loneliness and being alone. You can be alone and feel perfectly content in your solitude. And on the flip side, you can be in the midst of a crowd of people and feel very lonely. We are wired to be connected to others, to feel that sense of belonging. So if you're feeling lonely, have the courage to reach out, pay attention to this emotion and develop some strategies so that you can address this feeling properly. Remember, you're not the only one seeking connection. We all are. Reach out and connect. You'll be so glad you did. And someone else will likely be just as glad and grateful. Even having one supportive friend can make a big difference.
Key Lesson #3: Moving closer: The wide-angle view leads to hatred
“What if what we experienced close up is real, and what we hear on the news needs to be questioned.” If a picture paints a thousand words, then this is an insightful picture that having a wide-angle view leads to hatred. When you're looking at people who perhaps have different religious or political views from you or any other key difference, for that matter, if you take a wide-angle view and lump them all together as being wrong. This view can easily and quickly lead to hatred. But if you can move close up instead, as Bernie Brown suggests, it becomes a completely different picture. She reminds us that people are hard to hate to close up and by zooming in, we benefit by feeling more of a sense of connection and belonging. There's a lot of division going on in the world right now. But if you can move the lens a little bit closer in and be open-minded to listen to someone else's opinions that might be different from yours, it's possible that the great divide can get a little smaller. You might feel more connected with someone if you take the time to hear, understand and connect with them in a human way. So move a little closer, you might be surprised at what you find.
Key Lesson #4: Being Civil: Speak your truth to bullshit
“We don't even bother being curious anymore because somewhere someone on our side has a position. In a fitting-in culture, at home, at work, or in our larger community, curiosity is seen as a weakness, and asking questions equates to antagonism rather than being valued as learning.” Brown encourages you to be willing to speak your truth and live in integrity with what you believe rather than just relying on B.S. In our divisive culture today, there's a feeling that “If you're not with me, then you're my enemy.” The gray area on controversial topics is becoming harder and harder to find in our increasingly black and white world. Do you believe that an entire group of people are wrong about everything simply because they associate with a different political party? Do you find yourself feeling more and more as if their side is always wrong and your side is always right? Have you left any room in your perspective to try and see eye to eye? There are many polarizing issues where we may not always share a common viewpoint as the other person. But Brown makes a key point that we should be civil about our disagreements. Just because someone has a different view should not make him or her the enemy. Try to be willing to step into that gray area, engage in a dialogue with someone who may not share your view, and be willing to hear them out, also. If we can all be a little more civil to each other, the world will certainly be a better place.
Key Lesson #5: Sharing pain and joy: Holding hands with strangers
“Women and men with the strongest true belonging practices, maintain their connection by engaging in moments of joy and pain with strangers.” Brown reminds us that having raw moments of connection with other people, even with strangers, is important for us to feel a true sense of belonging. Whether it's at a football game, in church, or at a concert, you can find wonderful opportunities to connect with your planetary brothers and sisters and tap into a greater sense of shared humanity. She says, “ We have to catch enough glimpses of people connecting and having fun together that we believe it's true and possible for all of us.” And it's not just moments of fun when this is important. It's also during times of pain. Brown writes, “The more we're willing to seek out moments of collective joy and show up for experiences of collective pain, for real, in person, not online, the more difficult it becomes to deny our human connection, even with people we may disagree with.” Have the courage to share both your joy and your pain, even if it's with a stranger. After all, we're all in this together, aren't we?
So to summarize:
1- True belonging comes by being true to yourself.
2- Having a deep social connection is one of our basic needs.
3- People are hard to hate if you move closer.
4- Always speak your truth to ball shit.
5- The moments of collective joy and pain with strangers are essential to true belonging.
So there we have it, Bernie Brown's guide for finding the courage to speak your truth and be your authentic self while also maintaining a genuine connectedness to others.