As people we have a choice: connect or disconnect.
Some of us have been disconnecting from a very early age because it feels safe. But it leaves us empty.
We may be in control when we’re disconnected, living our lives through our intellect, but we become anxious and unfulfilled. From the outside everything looks ok, but it feels like shit.
To be connected is risky because if you do not have control over your emotional state, the outside environment will have an influence over how you feel. That’s when we distance ourselves or cut off completely, hoping the influence of others will barely be felt.
On the other side is the fear of being alone, which no one really wants deep down inside. Physiologically we’re wired for connection to others. And so, the two competing forces can create a lot of inconsistency in how we show up–both with personal relationships and with complete strangers.
I love talking to strangers whenever possible, asking questions that lead right to getting to know something about them. Don’t confuse this with small talk, however, with which I usually fail. Small talk feels forced, and doesn’t come from an authentic place of curiosity, so it’s more of a disconnect when I engage from that space.
A few weeks ago, I had my old Acura overheat 100 miles from home.
The tow truck driver showed up an hour and a half late. It wasn’t his fault, but my Type A personality took over and I had to keep reminding myself it does no good to get uptight. After getting out of the truck, he reached out to shake my hand. I looked him in the eyes as our hands met and said, “I’m annoyed because I’ve been waiting 90 minutes, and I know it’s not your fault, but I’d rather say it then make it awkward.” He smiled as he lead me to the cab of the truck.
In the past, I may have been a Class A asshole, wanting someone to make me feel better. But I am mindful of my shit now, and it’s important to communicate. Once my car was hooked up, he jumped into the cab and our conversation started.
During the six mile drive to the mechanic, we started talking about cars and car payments. He shared that he was an ex-Marine, and when he got out of the service he couldn’t afford the $250 monthly payment on his car because he had difficulty getting a job. He was 32 years old at the time, and eventually lost his car.
He then became an electrician’s apprentice, but it hurt his back so he couldn’t continue. I was thinking, “WTF, here’s this dude who served our country and he came home to very little opportunity!” I wanted to cry.
He eventually became a tow truck driver. Somehow the conversation moved to discussing cable, family (he has a wife and a small daughter) and the craziness of anger, hatred and over-the-top behavior that is broadcast in the world today. Both of us shared how sad it made us because the connection to humanity is always available. We are all the same inside regardless of the appearance of our bodies, sex, color, choices, job, age or anything we use to define ourselves.
As we pulled into the parking lot, I felt so happy to have met this man. I learned something, as I do every time I connect with someone. If I had stayed pissed off at him for showing up late, which was my first inclination, I would’ve disconnected and missed out on a truly great moment of humanity.
As he unhooked my car and I stood inside doing my paperwork, we waved at each other a few times. He was grinning ear to ear… and so was I.
Connection is everywhere, and it’s always a choice.