As the adage goes ‘no man is an island…’ and don’t we know it to be true! Whilst every human being is unique and valuable it is also true that we are not able to exist entirely on our own.
In part one of this three-part-post we explored the concept of I. We discussed questions of identity, personal value and life purpose (if you haven’t already, you can read part one here). In this post I want to look at the second of my three life saving words to further explore a simple yet profound truth about what you and I really NEED. But, before we begin let me remind you of the journey we are all on and reiterate why I’m writing these posts in the first place:
“If you are ever conflicted about your existence, especially to the point of thinking that it’s not worth living I want you to remember these three words – I N E E D H E L P . Say them out loud, to others and to yourself. Say them louder, again and again especially if you think that others have not seen you, heard you or understood you. And keep saying them for as long as your life depends on it. These three words might just save your life. – I N E E D H E L P !”
So let’s continue the conversation – NEED.
I W A N T T O D I S A P P E A R
I love going out to listen to bands. Something special occurs when people get together to feel the raw emotion of live music and engage in a couple of hours of hero-adulation. The musicians, the crowd, the venue and the music all intertwine to create something of a spiritual experience for me. It’s more than a ‘gig’. There’s a connection that occurs, or at least that’s what I think is going on.
I recently got to see one of my favourite Australian artists, and as I stood there and listened to her music with about a thousand other admirers I began to think about how great her life must be. I mean she gets to experience this feeling, this connection, as part of her every day working life!
She began to share something of her story and how it informed the next song she was about to perform. I listened as she completely dismantled my perception of her life. She talked about loneliness, disconnect and feeling ‘invisible’ a lot of the time. She then performed a song inspired by her celebrity musician existence that tells the tale of having many admirers, but few real friends – long flights, always away from home, she lamented
‘If one more person looks through me I could disappear… It could be sweet release, but I don’t want to cry, not here…’ – Kate Miller-Heidke, Nightflight
I looked around the room and people nodded with solace as if to identify with every word she said.
It seems my favourite celebrity muso is not that different to the everyday regular person. People today are more connected than ever. With the click of a button we can discover personal information about pretty much anyone. There are over a billion active FB users worldwide, hundreds of millions active Twitter users, over three billion hits a day on YouTube… LinkedIn, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr… the list goes on (and some people still use MySpace!?). But for all this connection and ability to engage with the world around us it seems we are not much better off. Some of the biggest challenges facing people in the 21st century stem from issues related to loneliness and isolation. It would seem that despite of our over connected technologically obsessed society, many within it feel completely… and utterly… INVISIBLE. Just like my favourite artist, we are surrounded by crowds of people and the more that others look through us, the more we feel like we are disappearing.
I S E E Y O U
So when did we shift from being a culture that esteemed the worth of people and become a society where people are consumed, accumulated and ignored? And more importantly how can we recover from this? Maybe we could learn a thing or two from cultures that seem to do this better. Perhaps the best way to ensure that people don’t feel invisible is to truly ‘see them’.
I love how Zulu people exchange these words upon greeting. One says Sawubona, (I see you) the other says Ngikhona (I am here). Some things are lost in a literal translate of this conversation, because what is actually being said in the midst of this exchange is,
until you saw me I did not exist.
Seeing people is more than just looking at them. To really see someone is to recognise that what stands before us more than just flesh, and blood and bones. Seeing people requires an intentional and honest look into the life and being of another human. It’s more than a passing glance, its pausing long enough to be present to those who are before us, to acknowledge their value simply because they ‘are’. Here’s the thing, when we truly see another person, we give them permission to see us and then begin to connect in quite a profound way. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be?
W O L F P A C K
We humans are highly social beings, pack-animals if you like, and I don’t believe it was ever intended that we live in isolation. A large portion of personal meaning is discovered in belonging, so it comes as no surprise that without positive interpersonal connection we’re bound to struggle. It has been well documented that loneliness is one of the most significant issues in our day and time. More people, young and old report as feeling isolated and lonely than in any other point in history.
Whilst food, water and oxygen might keep our heart beating and our physical well-being in tact, it would be fair to say that these essential elements on their own are simply not enough to sustain us. We NEED meaningful contact with others, friends, relatives, even contact with strangers is important.
Developing meaningful connections can be a complicated business and this is all the more reason to ensure that we are intentional with our efforts. In a recent visit to Australia Dr. Daniel Sweeney (George Fox University, USA) was asked what do people need in order to connect meaningfully and belong. His response,
Everyone needs to know that someone is H E R E (present to them in body and mind).
That someone is L I S T E N I N G (fully attentive to them).
That someone U N D E R S T A N D S them (identifies with them and their circumstances).
And that someone C A R E S (demonstrates like or love of them in some way by their response).
In other words what we really need to know from our interactions with others is
“I see you. I hear you. I understand you. I care for you.” We all NEED this.
A strong relational connection to an individual or community is crucial to everyone’s health and well-being. You might be ok as far as a roof over your head, food for your belly, stuff in your garage, but if you are struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm it’s definitely time to revisit your relationships and broader community connections. We all NEED to belong, especially when we’re struggling. And when we’re not struggling we NEED to see, hear, understand and extend care toward others. It’s confronting to think that we might be just what someone else needs to survive their current circumstances, but I suspect it is true more often than we realise.
In my final post in this series I will look at what it means to offer and receive HELP, but for now it’s over to you. Where do you find positive connection and belonging? How is this NEED met for you and how do you meet that need for others? I’m always interested in your thoughts!
If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:
Lifeline | Beyond Blue | Man Therapy | Kids Help Line | Headspace