“Authentic connections reveal our messy humanity, our unique differences, and our ability to trust and tend to one another. They ask us to be brave sharers and inquisitive listeners, granting the space and grace to ourselves and each other to show up unscripted.” Elyse Burden
At School of Thought, spring feels like the perfect time to introduce a few changes we are rolling out. Starting this week, to aid provide time to savor the pieces, we are dividing out our portions. If you missed it, Part I is here.
In a recent piece in the New York Times, David Brooks asked whether this year of isolation and social distancing may be reshaping who we are. We have missed so many tiny, but lasting, acts of connection, serendipitous encounters confiding to strangers on a train ride, or telling stories in the line for Chai tea, and having that momentary importance in each other’s lives.
“Those little acts, giving fruit to each other, turn out to be tremendously fortifying. Feeling like you have a sense of purpose, it turns out, is not just about the big commitments, but also small exchanges.”
We are beginning to emerge slowly from the pandemic and back into more physically connected spaces. This week, out and about on the streets of Philadelphia, the pace felt different. Slower. I ran into friends I hadn’t seen, and thought about how many moments of serendipity passed unseen as we were isolating this year.
Social connections are as important to our survival and flourishing as the need for food, safety, and shelter. And this is not just more good news for extroverts. Researchers agree that the benefits of connection are actually subjective. In other words, if you feel connected to others on the inside, you reap the benefits on the outside.
We have been thinking about the qualities that aid in real connection, and have rounded up some themes and ideas that form the building blocks of community: those qualities of connected people. Even while physically apart, we are all connected in some way…or could be.
Making Big Ideas Usable
Knowing the qualities of highly connected people, those able to not just create, but sustain effective threads among humans and ideas, allows us to more clearly identify these characteristics in ourselves and each other. These are not meant to imply things we should or should not do, but lessons to be learned from those who bring others together in positive and impactful ways. The themes collected suggest that,
with the importance of community,
with the world of leaders and learners sitting on a perpetual seesaw,
with our personal and professional lives an almost constant state of improvisation,
awareness of these ways of being and knowing may allow us to emerge from this year fortified with new purpose and energy around the threads that bond.
7 Qualities of Highly Connected People
1st Quality: Gentle keepers of revolutionary energy
The quiet revolutionary holds close an innate sense that others are listening and willing to connect. This is the embodiment of relationships over followers.
They were the children in grade school who, with quiet confidence, defied the group in small ways. Instead of joining the crowd, they would announce they wanted to do something different. They then scan for micro expressions/signs of interest, then, let their smile and quiet revolutionary energy do the rest.
This quality is not about persuasion, or tricky manipulation, just gentle magnetism that comes from a natural ability to call out what you care about and want to act on, without feeling the need to convert everyone to agree with and/or follow you. It also does not mean being passive, but recognizing the power in quietly going against the flow.What's the difference between knowledge and wisdom? I'll paraphrase educator John Holt: Knowledge is like knowing the names of all the streets in a city. Wisdom is knowing how to get from one place to another. -
2nd Quality: Creators of soft places to land
“In a legitimate democracy, (a soft place to land) means that your well-being is considered and your ability to help design and give meaning to its structures and institutions is realized.” John Powell, design architect at the Stanford d.school
This quality of connected people, creators of soft spaces, allows those in community to find protected space to figure stuff out, wrestle with dilemmas, and come face to face with what we really care about and feel energized to act on. These are not places for sales pitches, nudging, recruiting, coaching, or even inspiring, just… soft and protected spaces.
To create vibrant communities in which everyone is seen, heard, and recognized as an active participant in what is being built, highly connected people build soft spaces to land. These spaces allow us to really BE, with grace and dignity, as we are and as we want to be.
3rd Quality: S.L.O.W. listeners
“We are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced.”
― adrienne maree brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good
In SLOW Listening, we shared ideas around the fact that many people don’t stop to listen, they just stop to reload. That said, there are a lot of people who are the exception to that rule, and when we have the privilege of being in their presence we find ourselves better able to express ourselves and connect with others, leading to productive action. It is as if their behavior activates us.
This quality creates conditions that pull people in, and does not push or mandate them towards an answer. It is not about an activity, an event or a single idea that people desire to come together- it’s connection to a shared mission and the honoring of individuals with their own missions. It is bringing together people due to their connection as humans, and a shared sense of togetherness that also honors individuality.
When those who connect listen for these things, they do so not in an effort to get us to act as they see fit, but simply to enable us step into our own power.
4th Quality: Supporters of Impactivism
“As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls.” ― Sonia Sotormayor
Connectors instinctively understand that people form relationships with other people based on how they make them feel. To activate someone’s agency, especially if that person as yet is unaware of their own capacity, is to follow their initiative. This is engaging in Impactivism. That is, the act of activating the power of others.
Impactivism has to do with leading by stepping back, while still caring. The goal is to create a space into which we can step with a sense of belonging to a wider community beyond our family and friends, with the agency to make a valuable contribution to it.
5th Quality: Holders of a spectrum of solutions
This lesson is larger than this moment. To truly create community - in schools, businesses, politics, movements —- we need to create conditions that pull people in, not push or mandate them towards ONE answer.
This is honoring of individuals with their own missions. It is bringing together people due to their connection as humans, and a shared sense of togetherness that also honors individuality.
Not all initiatives are worth following. But those who understand connections have listened, they’ve created soft spaces, and at just the right moment, having engaged in the SLOW listening process, they select not to follow the loudest in the crowd, but intentionally choose based on a spectrum of possibilities.
6th Quality: Spreaders of genuine optimism
Highly connected people connect so many people to each other, who in turn are connected to them. But that’s not their primary motivation. They are not “networking” out self-interest, they are connecting because that is what they love to do. Their genuine optimism shapes the vision. They show up as themselves, and create spaces for others to do so as well.
This unconscious, but authentic, drive builds personal and collective agency which, in turn, grows the power needed to release potential assets for local development. This is a co-creative, future-focused, optimistic perspective.
7th Quality: Givers and sharers of power
Highly connected people believe in distributed leadership, in the various roles played by all. They don’t work through hierarchies; they work through communities. They decenter themselves, or pass the torch when the time is right. They are driven by an innate desire to weave their community towards denser, deeper connections.
The Seven Qualities of Highly Connected People
Gentle keepers of revolutionary energy
Creators of soft places to land
S.L.O.W. listeners to action
Supporters of Impactivism
Holders of a spectrum of solutions
Spreaders of genuine optimism
Givers and sharers of power
With perhaps a renewed sense of importance and appreciation for our shared threads, many predict that as we emerge we will find ourselves hyper-grateful, savoring the delicious moments with more joy. We hope in highlighting these qualities we have time to pause and reflect on this transformative moment.
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