You’re seeing your favourite band live. The music is unbelievable. You look around to see your closest friends dancing and smiling. On a giant screen you see the words: "Life is made of small moments like this."
And it feels right. Life is made of small moments like this, moments shared with the most incredible people. People who were once complete strangers. These are the ones we need to find.
The depth of connections we form with each other defines the quality of our lives. Creating and exploring that depth is the process of creating closeness as we move from stranger to friend.
Getting closer to others can be scary. Perhaps we tried to connect as children, but were rejected and over time learned to stop trying. We might develop a belief that other people hurt us or consider us unworthy. Or maybe, despite our efforts, we just struggle to find people we click with. We might develop a belief that other people aren’t worth connecting with. We’re not like them.
These beliefs hold us back, preventing us from getting to know others who might become close friends. Either way, we miss out on those small moments that make life worth living.
If we’re not careful we can find ourselves in a vicious circle of alienation, craving connection but not knowing how to find it. Instead of seeing future friends around us, we see strangers to avoid. The more we see others as causes of pain or as unworthy of our attention, the less we reach out.
Imagine if everyone felt and acted this way. If you behave like everyone else then everyone else will think you’re just like everyone else. We would all congregate at interpersonal local minima set by our culture, never daring to venture out in search of something higher.
This mindset twists our individuality from something special into a reason to hide. If we believe that sharing who we are leads to either rejection or boredom then we’ll never share enough to form deep connections. Even worse, if we spend less and less time celebrating and exploring our individuality, we disconnect ourselves from the qualities that really bring us to life, that make us who we are.
There is a way out of this trap. Whatever context we’re in, we can remember that we are there too. We, with our rich emotional lives, surprising and varied interests, grand hopes and quiet fears, are in this place just like all those strangers. We can continue to believe that we’re not like them, or we can consider that there might be others who feel just like us.
I’m not suggesting we should try to connect deeply with absolutely everyone. What I am suggesting is that in any situation there could be others who could become close friends.
Timothy Leary exhorted us to “find the others”, the ones with whom deep connection is possible. I fully agree, but I want to make one small, yet important tactical change: let the others find you.
How? By being vulnerable and by going first. See your unique and weird individuality as the means whereby connection actually happens.
To be vulnerable is to show others the deeper parts of ourselves. We have no control over what happens next – that’s why it can be so scary. We can only hope that we won’t get hurt, but we might, and the more we do it, the more likely we are to get hurt. But there’s no other way to turn that vicious circle into a virtuous one.
Think about the closest people in your life. The ones you could phone in an emergency at three in the morning. The ones you hug during that concert. You got there because one of you opened a door to deeper levels of connection, and because the other chose to step through it.
The worst that can happen is rejection. That’s fine. At least we’re still connecting with the parts of us that make us who we are. A rejection is just someone telling us that they don’t want to be part of our tribe. But when someone embraces and reciprocates our vulnerability? Life is made of small moments like that.
Someone needs to go first. It may as well be us. Let the others find you.
I publish a newsletter called Thinking Out Loud, which chronicles my journey as an online maker of things, but it's also is where I talk about whatever I'm interested in at the time. There are almost 1000 of us now, come play!