Monday, April 15, 2013

Created to Connect

There is much to be said about the preoccupation (and perhaps even infatuation) North American culture has had with the concept of individualization. At birth, we begin to be bombarded with limitless forms of communication regarding our formation as an individual. Early on parents of a newborn child help to shape who they understand themselves to be through the clothes they way, the interaction they have, the food they eat and other environmental factors they are exposed to. 

As this child continues to grow and develop, they begin to experiment with different ways of expressing themselves while being taught to develop their individual skill set through education, the arts, apprenticeships, fashion and work experience, among other things. The focal point of the ascension of humanity in the North American bubble is "to be all you can be." And while there is intentional emphasis of individual development, there is shockingly less focus on communal wholeness. Sure we may reference the fact that humans are to develop a social conscience, and learn to manage conflict with others, but there seems to be far less attention paid to the development of an entire communal hub (family or some other connecting point) than there is on individual achievement here in the first world.

I've had the privilege of travelling to a number of different countries outside of North America. What I find refreshing from my experience (other than cuisine), is the communal perspective from which many of these international cultures create rhythm. You may have heard the notion that "it takes a village to raise a child." It's one thing to say something like this and another to see it lived out in a contextual setting. With all the emphasis we North Americans place on individual achievement, I wonder if we unintentionally sacrifice our innate desire to connect with others? Have we defined connection to mean a source of weakness instead of strength?

In no way shape or form am I suggesting that individual people don't matter...quite the contrary. Every individual does matter, and because they matter, they have purpose. Part of this purpose is to connect with others in a communal hub. So if the communal connection is just as important (if not more so in some respects) than the individual connection, how does the way we approach a rhythm for life need to change?

I'd like to suggest three simple ideas that may inspire all of us to create a new sense of rhythm.

1. Lone wolves always die. The concept of a communal hub can also be witnessed within the realm of the animal kingdom. Most living creatures prefer to exist in community (schools of fish, pack of wolves, herd of elephants, etc.). Animals have learned that there is not only safety in numbers but also great strength. A great white shark can fall victim to a pod of dolphins that will mercilessly fend of their predator by bombarding it with a barrage of full speed collisions with their rigid noses. The animals that exist in isolation seem to have a decreased limit to their effectiveness and in many cases their actual lifespan.

When a lion is stalking a herd in search for fresh prey, they spend a significant amount of time observing the community. The lion takes note of how a community responds to a potential threat. As a strategic moment, the lion will race towards the herd at full speed with the intention of creating and instilling fear into its prey. If the herd stays together, it can fend off the attack. If, however, an individual animal gets separated from the community at large...well, let's just say it doesn't end well for them.

If we are created for the purpose of connecting with others, than believing that we can "go at life alone" is not only a lie, it's a death trap. Lone wolves always die. Sure, you might win a battle or two, but in the end you will lose your life, and you will die alone. 

2. When it's all over. We all know that life on earth doesn't last forever. I've had the honor and privilege to walk with many individuals and families as they have walked through the inevitable reality of death. The common thread in each of these individual stories continues to be how they did or did not connect with those whom they loved. No matter how grand their life had been; no matter what they did or acquired, at the end of their life itself, they chose to celebrate their connections with people, not things. 

The only investment that pays true reward is that which we make in the lives of others. Positive or negative, how we connect with people will be the only thing that matters to us when our lives are over. Disagree with me? The next time you are in a public space where multiple generations are present, watch how our elder generations celebrate life. What are they making time for?

3. Connection is strength, not weakness. Imagine for a moment that our world can be represented with individual Lego pieces. Now I happen to really love's a fascinating invention. These building blocks can create some incredible masterpieces. But there is still a limit to Lego's creativity. You are unable to create something with just one piece. You might have a really great piece of Lego, but unless it's combined with other pieces it will always be limited in what it can do.

This same principal can be said of us as human beings. Unless we intentionally choose to create connection with others, a communal hub of sorts, we will not be able to achieve our potential in our original design for life. Community isn't an's a necessity. We cannot exist in isolation. Resist the pressure of complete individualization and embrace the idea that connection creates strength, not weakness.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Story of Belonging

One of my utmost favorite stories just so happens to be captured by the biblical writer of the gospel of Luke. In chapter 15 of this segment of scripture, the story of the lost son unfolds.

A man has two sons, both of whom are entitled to a portion of their father's great wealth as inheritance. The younger of the two sons desires to see and experience the world around him, so he asks his father for his portion of the inheritance. His father grants his request, releasing his younger son to pursue his carnal desires and dreams. This younger son lives it up, exploring life to the full in all of his dreams of what he thought it could be. His thrill ride comes to a crashing halt though, once his resources for maintaining his dream run out. At the end of his rope, this younger son finds himself simply surviving instead of living into the dream of his youth and so decides to reunite with his father for the purpose of returning to where he had once belonged. In his mind, this younger son would be willing to exist as a less than equal bi-partisan of his father's house. Instead of claiming his birthright and full son-ship as he had previously done, the younger son would become a servant in his father's household so that he may not only survive, but once again return to the place where he found true belonging.

As the story continues to unfold, the younger son is embraced by his father upon his return and although he is willing to become like a servant, his father restores his son-ship and celebrates his incumbent return to his place of belonging. The elder son, however, stands against the welcoming return of his younger brother. Although this elder son did not chase after the empty notion in the way his younger brother had, he too wrestles with embracing his place of belonging and rejects the overtures of love from his father because of his inability to rationalize the seemingly unequal demonstration of love from this father and his two sons. The elder son claims that the younger son is loved in a more profound way than himself only because his wayward ways are seemingly overlooked by the welcoming return this father embraces his younger son with. Having lived up and into the expectation of what a "good son would do," this elder son is left hurt, bitter and confused by the loving response of his father towards his younger brother. And as a result the elder brother refrains from entering into the celebration of belonging together with his extended family.

There are three facets of belonging that are stirred up in me as I immerse myself in this biblical story.

We belong because of who we are, not because of what we do. We so often believe the lie that what we do makes us who we are. The truth is that who we are informs what we do. This elder brother struggled with understanding what is meant to be a son to his father. He believed a good son was someone who did all the right things. But it was his younger brother that truly understood what it meant to be a son. A son is someone who knows where he belongs and who he belongs to. Even in the midst of mistakes, our sense of belonging is not severed. In fact, it’s in these darkest of times that we rediscover who we really are and where we really belong. It takes great courage to admit what our needs are, including our desire to belong to someone and to something.

We all need to belong somewhere. We as humans were created for connection. We define ourselves by who we are to others: so and so is my friend, this is my dad, this is my cousin, they are someone I went to school with. This sense of belonging and the need to be connected lies at the core of who we are. We become restless when we don't have a clear understanding of where we belong or who we belong to.

When we belong, we are not only loved, but we are also inspired to live. When we find our place of belonging by answering the question of how we fit in this world, we find that we are not only loved, but we become inspired to live in and out of belonging. We know who we are when we know where we belong. And knowing how we fit gives us the platform from which we are able to build things like reputation, legacy, commitment and endurance.

Because we live in a society that struggles with the concept of long-term commitment, it makes me wonder if we have lost sight of our ability and need to belong. Perhaps if we generate the courage to rediscover how we are connected and why we are connected, we might identify our place of belonging and in turn help others to discover theirs.

We are all living in this unfolding story belonging. Ignoring the reality that we all need to fit somewhere isn't going to help us discover who we are and what we are made for. Find the courage to create connection and rediscover how you belong.