Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Gift of Connection


As the pandemic slowly inches its way through a second year, medical heroics notwithstanding, I've been thinking a lot about the gift of connecting. 

Connection—something we haven't been able to do, fully, for a very long time—is a need woven into the human psyche. For those of us who've sat through any psychology classes, or business leadership sessions, or almost any interpersonal training, we know the drill: thanks to Abraham Maslow, we can all recite, together, the "Hierarchy of Needs" he championed.

Lest you have forgotten, let me remind you that right in the middle of those five ranges of human motivation is the category of "belongingness"—the yearning to connect with others. Our ability to connect becomes our gift to enable each other to draw closer toward personal fulfillment.

It is not by sheer coincidence that I've been thinking much about connectedness. Yesterday, I spent an entire day watching—from a three thousand mile distance—what, if not for the pandemic, would have been an energy-filled conference of the National Genealogical Society. It was admittedly still an event full of valuable information—but it was a day spent apart from all the people I would have loved to connect with, relate to, and share the energy with. Truth be told, the prospect of facing another online conference—even another upcoming one I've enjoyed the most and would never have missed in the past—withers upon the thought of enduring it virtually. The need to connect is superseding the need to be informed.

There are, of course, ways we can maintain our connection with our groups of friends, associates, or even nearby genealogical society members. Just the ability to connect via video conferencing methods has made the past fourteen months bearable. But we need to move beyond satisfaction with what has become the online meeting status quo. Peopling a meeting with silent, sitting figures, present only to absorb information, is not really the same as hosting an event which gives the gift of connection, of birthing a sense of belonging.

Belonging and participating become a two-way proposition. Belonging is connecting, meeting each other halfway, and thriving on our shared commonality. It is difficult to participate without a sense of belonging. Yet it is unlikely we truly feel as if we belong, if we don't have the opportunity to participate.

In my life-beyond-genealogy, I pay attention to the musings of those who study leadership. One pithy blog I follow, the creation of Peter Shepherd of Human Periscope, is called Noodle Scratchers—noodle, as in that round object perched above your shoulders, meant for thinking.

Recently, Peter asked, "How can I make this [meeting] about connection not content?" After I lead a genealogy society's Special Interest Group meeting, or deliver an hour's lecture on a research challenge, I find myself asking that same question. Why does lecturing via Zoom seem like delivering a drink from the fire hose? Perhaps the restrictive property of the vessel delivering the goods results in an unmanageable flow. The medium may not necessarily be the message, but it certainly can direct us on how to massage that message so our audience may better receive it.

Such considerations as those, however, still leave us in the one-way camp of content, not connection. And yet, that same medium—that online meeting forum—has the ability to accommodate multiple directions. Innovative applications can allow us to achieve that very connection we yearn to reach.

With Zoom fatigue becoming a real threat to the vitality of continued online options for organizations, I'd say now is the time to call for redirection toward connection. That very technology which once snatched us from organizational oblivion can certainly convert into the perfect launching pad for the next generation of meeting ideas to take flight. The generous gesture will be to develop that technology into a tool which doesn't merely permit us to individually deliver or receive content, but enables us to connect with one another.

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