May 3, 2021

Infection and Disconnection

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Here I am with my childhood friend, Maren. We hung out this weekend in the mountains. It was refreshing and delightful. We played in waterfalls, we played hiked with other beautiful soul sisters. And COVID came-up in conversation. We hesitated.

I also had my 1st first date in a year and a half this weekend with a gentleman and mountain man. We sat in a park in Asheville by the river and told our stories. We talked about our pasts, our present, our future dreams. COVID came-up in conversation. We also hesitated.

Hesitation came in when the unavoidable topic of, “How are you handling it,” started. But why would we hesitate? It is an important topic.

I know for myself it is the fear of loss of connection that is expressed in the form of judgment, shaming, or rejection. When I talk to others deeply, this is also the hesitation.

First of all, this blog post is NOT about whether to get vaccinated/not to get vaccinated, or who is more justified on that subject. If that is all you care about, then this article is not for you. If you are someone who is trying to find the humanity in all of this, and is genuinely interested in the social and interpersonal impact this whole situation has had, then read on.

The fact of the matter is… this infection and pandemic has been the catalyst for a tremendous disconnection amongst us. Last year, it was the physical distance of quarantine. But here in 2021, I am noticing the distance is showing up in our connections. In many ways we are physically coming closer again, but our hearts are “social distancing” further and further apart… Especially over the topic of vaccination. It has become a cut-throat subject that has caused many of us humans to “caste” each other into categories.

“Sheep.” “Idiot.” “Stupid.” “Dangerous.” Are some of the narratives I have heard from both sides. Here’s the thing; no one wants to be labeled. Forest Gump said it well when Lieutenant Dan gets very upset with his lady friend because she called Forest, “Stupid.” Forest said, ““I guess Lieutenant Dan figured there’s some things you just can’t change. He didn’t want to be called crippled, just like I didn’t want to be called stupid.” We want to be seen for our hearts, not our limitations or what someone sees as our limitations. So we hesitate when we feel that is the direction it may go.

What concerns me about what is happening right now is that being right is more important than engaging in empathy and connection. Yes, how we handle this pandemic and the virus is important from a public health standpoint. But so is how we handle each other. This is VERY much important, too. Here’s the kicker… we are all inherently in humanship with each other. I consider humanship the most basic of relationships. We are inherently connected as humans, and we cannot change that. We can distance ourselves from people, have boundaries, perhaps not speak to them ever again. But no matter what, we are in humanship with one another, and it is important. It matters how we engage with one another.

Here is my invitation as we come into our new normal: Let’s value our humanship while we simultaneously value our needs and emotions. I believe it is possible we can do both because I have been playing with it. And it is working.

Before we discuss integrating healthy humanship, let’s discuss the needs and emotions driving much of the disconnect. Here’s the thing about all of these heated emotions that we are having right now… they are driven by our personal needs being met or not. For people who are very passionate about the vaccine, some of the needs I see not being met when people challenge them on not getting the vaccine are safety (not getting the virus), security (having a shield from the virus), being important (that they as a person matters), freedom (they see the vaccine as the key to the freedom to do what they want). This list is by no means the whole picture, but these are some of the key ones I uncover with people when we get into deep discussion. And here’s the interesting thing… for those who are passionate about not getting the vaccine, their needs are very similar. Their needs are safety (they don’t feel that the vaccine is safe to put in their bodies because of the lack of research), being important (that they as a person matters), freedom (they see the choice not to get the vaccine as very important), autonomy (that they can make decisions for themselves). Obviously what safety/security/freedom/autonomy means to either perspective is VERY different. But here is what is the same… everyone in this wants to matter to other people, and wants to be shown that they matter by other people. Even if we don’t verbalize it or recognize this for ourselves, I have never met a human who deep down didn’t need this.

What happens when these needs aren’t met for us? We feel emotions, usually unpleasant ones. It can be anger, rage, frustration, disgust, just to name a few. And both the needs and emotions are valid, no matter who you are or where you are coming from.

Here is one thing I know as well. No one, and I mean no one, needs more judgment, shaming, or rejection. Even the masochists of the world don’t need it… they’ve just learned how to be in control of it. If we want to engage in healthy humanship, we have to consciously choose to connect to others versus condemn.

So how do we reconcile these different needs and all of these emotions, and come back together in humanship? I have a 3 Step Process of Healthy Humanship Engagement that I am going to invite you to consider utilizing:

  1. Own your needs and emotions.
  2. Get curious about “the other.”
  3. Tune into empathy.

Own your needs and emotions- When we can recognize our own needs and emotions, we can start the process of connecting to ourselves in order to nurture them. We start to work through our emotions and discharge them instead of getting stuck. As we own our own needs, we can foster an environment to meet them. Validate your needs and your emotions. The needs and emotions in and of themselves are indeed valid. They may not align with the other humans around you. That is OK, they don’t have to. But do this for yourself first and foremost. Show yourself that you matter. We can then come to the table and engage in Step 2.

Get curious about the other: Step 1 is for you to get curious about yourself. When you can get curious about yourself, you then have the ability to get curious about the other. We can’t do for others what we cannot do for ourselves. So get curious. Why on earth would they feel the way they feel and have an experience and perspective that is SOOOOO different than yours. Listen. Engage. Make eye contact. See their needs. Validate their emotions. You may not agree with their logic, but you can be with them in their needs and emotions. Get curious. Show them that they matter.

Tune into empathy- Empathy is, by definition, the action of understanding. When it comes to giving it to others, it is vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another. Essentially, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Doesn’t mean we agree… we connect. We act in connection, and empathy is, in my experience, the most potent ingredient to do that.

This is a unprecedented time for all of us. It is hard, and as one of my late, wise mentors Hal Shrader once said, “Hard things are hard.” Figuring out how to be in humanship with one other right now is, indeed, hard. But I believe we can do it. I have been able to utilize this process with people who are not handling the pandemic the same as I am and still be connected. So with that, my invitation is to choose connection over correctness. Let’s make loving space for ourselves, and then loving space for each other.

Be gentle with yourself as you enter the new weird. I love you all.

xoxo E

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