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We find ourselves living in a times of extreme contradiction. We have never been so connected to people through technology and yet the research describes our times as times of loneliness and disconnection. How are we to understand the times we live in and be a people who encourage connection in a disconnected world?
Are We Really Connected?
The Connected World
Technology has rapidly shaped our world in recent decades. The single biggest shift has been brought on by the internet. A technology that is designed to connect. It has brought us so many more opportunities. There has been some huge shifts in the way we communicate. Facetime, Skype and Zoom have enabled distance to seem smaller, keep families connected and enabled us to survive a year filled with various lock downs.
Social media is only around 20 years old, and for many they have only engaged in the last 10 years. It works because we are social beings with a longing to connect with others.
Mark Zuckerberg describes Facebook’s mission in terms of connection.
“We just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else. And we still do today.” Mark Zuckerberg
Research has apparently shown that there are only ever 6 degrees of separation between any 2 people in the world. A 2016 facebook study showed that this number might be closer to an average of 3.57 for those on the network at the time.
The fact we are so easily able to build and maintain connection in relationships across the world is such a good thing. We live in a connected world.
The Disconnected World
However, loneliness has been described as an epidemic here in the UK. People are lonelier than ever. The UK government launched a cross-Goverment strategy in 2018 and the UK even has a loneliness minister dedicated to looking at this issue. At the time it was described as one of the greatest threats to public health.
All of this was before a global pandemic, where people have been forced into isolation and all the usual support systems have been affected.
A 2010 study in Scotland showed that 11% often felt lonely and 34% sometimes felt lonely.
In 2017 it was reported that more than 1/3 of the population in Scotland live alone.
These numbers, those facing loneliness are likely to have increased this past year.
So in a world that has never been so connected, people have never felt so disconnected.
The Dangers of Disconnection
We are made for connection and a disconnected world is a dangerous place.
A 2010 study showed that loneliness was worse for people than obesity. The health implications are far and wide for us personally.
It is bad for our health to live lonely. Real relationships are healing to our whole being – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
A disconnected world is bad for our health. It keeps us isolated and when we are isolated we can build up our own ideas without challenge. This is bad for us as communities.
Hence the tribalism we have seen on display so vehemently in the past few years. Whilst social media has connected us – it generally connects us to others who think exactly like us. It limits our exposure to people who think differently.
This leads to division and suspicion and if left unchecked it unfortunately grows to bitterness and eventually leads to hate and violence.
Connection is about more than finding like-minded people to be in relationship with (though that is a good thing). It is about learning to have relationship with people we disagree with. I fear that this may well be a lost art in our Cancel Culture. If we disagree we disconnect. Sadly the church has led the way in this too often. But looking around we can see this tribalism, this division in the major issues of race and politics. Each side getting more entrenched with time. Each referendum encouraging a 50/50 split of opinion that builds camps or tribes. (Loneliness is contributing to our increasingly tribal politics – Financial Times)
Our ability to find real living relational connection, not based on our agreement is more important for both our personal and global well being than we might realise.
Building Real Connection
As I’ve been reflecting on this dichotomy between connection and disconnection in our culture I’ve been asking myself the question: what does this mean for my leadership?
So how do we play our part in building genuine connection?
Pursue Real Connection
If I’m going to make a difference here, as with so many things in leadership, it begins with me taking a long hard look at myself. Am I pursuing real connection? Do I have friends I can be real with?
People who love me and in invest in me and for who I do the same in return?
I’ve had different season in life where I have done better and worse at this. One thing I have noticed is that leadership can have a tendency to isolate us, if we are not careful. Our leadership often means it is not always appropriate to share openly with people about all that is going on.
However we do need some people whom we can share everything with. The highs, the lows, the struggles, the pain, the victories and the losses.
In my experience the hardest part of leading anything is the relationships. The hurts that we face, the potential for isolation and the challenge of sometimes having to make unpopular decisions.
However in the gospel we have been given all the tools for relationship. If we are not careful we can become experts at speaking on forgiveness and grace but we need to ask; does it show up experientially in our relationships?
We have been given a ministry of reconciliation, yes reconciling people to God, but also with one another.
If as leaders we want to create communities of real connection it begins with us. After that we must stop and ask how do we create a culture that fosters such relationships. What values will help us thrive in our interpersonal relationships. If your values don’t speak to your relationships in deeply practical ways you may be missing something. It is easy to say we are all called to love one-another but it is another thing to put arms and legs on it!
Offer Real Connection
As we pursue a journey of real connection ourselves, making ourselves open to others and working through our own “stuff” that gets in the way – we need to offer that same life giving connection to our communities.
I feel like we are just at the start of exploring that here in our new assignment. How do we reach out to others around us. It starts so practically. Spending quality time with our neighbours, freely offering what we have to bless others. Blessing people without agenda.
I also think that a big part of this is going to be listening. I’m not very good at this most of the time (Ask my wife!). I find myself listening to respond rather than listening to understand all too often.
However thinking about the wider implications of disconnection in our culture, listening is a skill I see lacking everywhere. In politics there is an unwillingness to admit that the other party may actually have something useful to share on a topic. Admitting that would be defeat.
If we could really foster a culture of listening then perhaps oppressed groups would not feel pushed to making bold public statements that stir up anger. Now of course listening is only the first step when it comes to justice issues, but it is not a step I see happening much.
I’m challenged to think about how we can create spaces in our culture where listening without judgement creates a space that brings people with divergent perspectives together.
It requires us to feel unthreatened, it requires us to be secure and it requires us to have an openness to learn. A humility if you like.
Serving Our Communities
I suspect in a post-Christian culture this is the place we need to take. The place of serving our communities. A place of being peace-makers, a people who help others come together. A place of hope and warmth where loneliness is combatted with a cuppa and a listening ear. I look around and I see massive opportunity to offer real connection in an increasingly disconnected culture.
What other ideas do you have for building real connection to a disconnected world? Let me know below.
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