Simple Exercises That Can Help You Connect With Absolutely Anyone

A therapist and a psychiatrist offer six effective ways to personally help solve a global crisis of connection

In our last post, “Why Do We Hate?” we wrote that our delusion of separateness is fueling systemic racism, violence, war, and impeding our response to imminent, global existential threats like climate change. We argued that it is urgent for us to develop our capability to connect, and extend it beyond our close inner circle.

So what can we do to develop our sense of connection?

There’s no simple solution, as this is a problem that humanity has been grappling with throughout recorded history. But there’s a greater sense of urgency now, given the problems we face. Here are some ideas to begin to work towards this.

Start by thinking about experiences in which this kind of connection has come naturally to you. Maybe it was a moment when you deeply felt your love for someone, or a moment when you held your newborn baby in your arms. Try some of our tips for fostering deeper emotional connections with those you love and care about. Start to make this more of a priority in your life.

Then — and here’s where it gets harder — try to extend some of this feeling out to people outside of your in-group. You’re unlikely to feel the level of closeness to strangers that you feel with your closest family, but we know that some feeling of connection is possible. Think of the bonding that goes on between strangers who go through a difficult experience with us — think of the way that people help each other during disasters, like 9/11. But even in the context of normal life, we can develop this feeling of connection (without compromising our safety by misplacing our trust in an untrustworthy person).

Here are some more things you can try:

Think about how your well-being and survival depends on strangers

Almost everything that sustains you is produced by people you don’t know, from the food you eat, to the clothes you wear, to the building you live in. Reflect on how much we depend on the work and efforts of others, all over the world.

Spend time in work or play with people you don’t normally hang out with

Look for opportunities to become involved in work or some activity you enjoy with people who aren’t in your typical in-group. This could be people of another gender, of another racial or ethnic group, of another nationality, or religion. Try to make this a regular, recurring involvement, not a one-time thing. Get to know your fellow group members as people, as much as you can. When you sense differences between you and them, think to yourself: “What can I learn from them?” Also consider how much you have in common with them as humans.

Be willing to look at prejudices or stereotypes you have about people outside of your in-group

This is challenging, but try to become aware of ways that we generalize or stereotype about groups we’re less familiar with. Look for automatic thoughts that arise, like: “Everyone in this group acts in such-and-such a way” or “You can’t trust people in that group.” Recognize those as reflexive thoughts that we acquired during our upbringing or social conditioning. Call those generalizations into question. And don’t be afraid to gently call them out in other people when you see it by saying: “Can you repeat that?” or “That makes me uncomfortable.”

Think of the big, big picture

As you walk down a city street, reflect on the fact that all of the matter on the earth comes from stars that exploded many millions of years ago. Every person on earth is made of this same stuff, literally stardust. As you pass each person, take a quick look at their face, and think that they are made of stardust. It’s amazing that stardust can become all of those faces. You may find that people start to look amazing to you, beautiful, regardless of their age or gender, even if they aren’t stereotypically beautiful according to common social standards of beauty.

Try out the practice of loving-kindness meditation

In this kind of meditation we develop a wish for people to be safe, happy, healthy, and to have a feeling of easeful well-being. We start with ourselves, then extend this to others we care about, then to strangers, and then finally (and you have to build up to this one) to people who we’ve found difficult to deal with in our lives.

Reflect on the idea that all people, regardless of what group they are in, can feel emotions like yours… hope, fear, love, joy, pain, loss

Remember the main point — that we are all interconnected. The world needs many more of us to keep this in mind. Let’s start now… there’s no time to waste!

Note from the Authors: Ashley Pallathra and Edward Brodkin share their views here for educational and informational purposes only. The views expressed in this blog are not a substitute for individualized psychological, psychiatric, or medical care from a clinician familiar with your specific circumstances.

Co-authors of the new book “Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections.” Twitter: @ashleypallathra @tedbrodkin

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