I came across 3 seemingly unrelated pieces of writing which consider the theme of Human Connection.
I read a poem1 with a particularly moving line: “He was a gentleman, who heard me with his eyes”.
How do we connect with each other?
And then, by sheer coincidence, I picked up a newspaper2 and read about a comment made by Helen Mirren relating to her success “ I have a listening face where it looks like I’m listening to what a person is saying, but actually I’m not even hearing it”.
Should we pretend to listen when we’re not?
The third example was a book on therapy3 . “…..I strive for connectedness above all else. ….. I am resolved to act in good faith:……no concealing my own humanness and my own vulnerabilities”.
In these examples we are offered a crib sheet of some of the necessary components of good connection.
First, our eyes. It is said that the eyes are the window of the soul. The poem reminds us that the eyes are powerful, how we use them is important. We need to take care not to dominate the other person by staring them out, and equally not be afraid to look with care and compassion and, perhaps most importantly, not be afraid of ‘being seen’.
Second, our face. The first point of judgement for most people. Consider how we react differently to a grumpy or to a smiling face. So much of our ability and willingness to connect with the other is assessed in the split second of looking into their face. We can see how this is so significant with the common use of simple ‘emojis’ in electronic communication. I think it is a real sadness that some realise the power of their facial expression and recognise that it can be used in ways which are potentially misleading to others.
Finally, the acknowledgement that offering an open and honest way of being is essential to creating a real connection with another, to offer ourselves with all our ‘humanity and vulnerability’. All or none of this can be easy to achieve dependant on so many factors. Sometimes we can be afraid of getting it wrong; offering the wrong level of eye contact or openness of heart and face. We may be concerned that this will be misconstrued as inappropriate or breaking the social norm. Conversely we may be frightened of being rejected and want to protect ourselves. I wonder how, then, can we achieve a connection whilst also ensuring the protection of the less powerful.
In my opinion, the acceptance of our own humanness and vulnerability and understanding how simple actions can have a huge impact is key. A smile, or meeting of eyes in a situation can calm nerves, soothe anger or show empathy. Perhaps if we are less afraid of getting it wrong we may find ourselves getting it right. Maybe if we are less fearful of our own vulnerabilities we become more able to tolerate them in others in a way which will really encourage the human race to connect.
Really seeing the other person is impossible without a well-tuned ability to be self-aware - warts and all - and to accept all of this with a loving kindness occasionally given to others, but rarely ourselves.
1Bob Elvis- Who’s a Gentleman 2 The Times – 04.05.18 3 Staring at the Sun, Irvin D Yalom.