Importance of Our Social Connections

The lone wolf

We have all heard the term “lone wolf.” It brings to mind a vision of a person who does their own thing or marches to a different drummer. In some cases, they are seen as an outcast, in others as a warrior or someone who forges a new path. It is often glorified as being the stoic or heroic approach. In reality, this is not the case. The lone wolf pits the isolated individual against the world.

We as humans are naturally social creatures. We have social needs that are to be met if we are to feel happy and fulfilled. There has been no one in history who has accomplished anything significant on her or his own. Rome was built by the masses. Thomas Edison invented the light-bulb with a team of colleagues after failing thousands of times. Henry Ford had a row of push buttons on his desk, and when he had a question that he could not answer, he knew which button to push. With the proper push of a button, an expert in the area of the subject would come and provide the solution. [1]

Some think that taking the solo road is the easier one. However, it is also the most stressful. Traditionally we might believe that those who lead large organizations or have a significant social cohort are most under stress. This thought is not the case. It has been shown that when we become isolated our survival mechanisms kick in. Instead of remaining open and receptive to social engagement, we, in fact, close down and grow much more suspicious of everyone and everything around us. [2]

Studies have shown that people in western society used to have about 3 close friends that they could call on when things got bad. That number has currently dropped to an average of 0. This loss of connection is a massive driver for feelings of loneliness. Feeling lonely is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you feel alone, you tend toward actions that make you more isolated and thus increase the feelings of separation along with perpetuating the pattern. [2]

How did we get here?

Every day when we turn on any form of media, we are bombarded by advertisements. What might these advertisements be telling us? There is a common theme. The first is that we are all individuals. With the product, they are selling we will be able to express our unique individuality. The second is without their product, in some way, we are inferior. If we buy their product, we will solve some problem that we have and will become happier as a result.

The idea of an independent agent is ingrained into us both by advertising and in school. Having the mindset of an isolated individual is what is forging a widespread social division. There is little talk about the fact that the key to happiness is having a tight-knit group of people in your life. Instead, we are driven to gain material possessions for ourselves as a fleeting means to derive pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.

We have compounded this issue which is created by a complex system due to our negative outlook on someone who is in such a position of isolation. When we see someone who is exhibiting lone wolf characteristics, we automatically assume there is something wrong with them. That is to say, if we express feelings of loneliness, depression or anxiety, we are looked upon as broken. We so quickly forget that people who experience these feelings are human just like us and for whatever reason, the experiences that they have had, have led them to where they are. [2]

An additional layer of complexity comes from the fact that it is increasingly difficult to identify such isolated people. Technology, especially since the agricultural revolution, has allowed us not to need others. We can be lone wolves and show no signs of need. So not only do we not have social support groups, but people are so far removed that no one will notice as they slip into the social abyss.

Taking a different perspective

In the western world when we feel down, we often do something for ourselves. We go to a movie, buy something pleasurable to eat, have a drink, etc. This gaining is merely a distraction and suppression of the feelings that we are having. In the east, however, when someone is feeling down, they do something thoughtful for the group. They realize that for one, giving makes us feel good, and two when we give to another, it is strengthening the social bond. Equally, when you have a group with strong social relationships when one member is struggling, the group stands together and helps that person through their struggles. Except for the most extreme of disaster situations, this group maintaining mindset has all but faded in the west. [2]

If we know that having a social group leads to long-term happiness and is a resulting driver of fulfillment and success, why are we not pursuing those ideals?

One reason has been mentioned; we are distracted by gaining material possessions for us as an individual. Another is because we are not taught how to forge such relationships. Networking and relationship building is like any skill, it must be practiced and built up. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

The very first step to relationship building is face-to-face communication through dialogue. When we are talking with another, two things need to happen. The first is that we must hold space for that person. We so often listen so that we can respond in a manner that makes us sound witty or charming. In reality, we must listen for comprehension along with becoming genuinely interested in the other person. To hold space means merely to be in that moment with them, ensuring your thoughts are not wandering and that you are providing the other with your full attention and conscious awareness.

The second thing that should happen in a relationship is that due to your genuine interest in that person, most of the conversation should be about them. We can ask questions to get to what is meaningful to the other person. This learning is the start of a genuine connection. This interaction is where the seed is planted, and from there the relationship grows like a tree with continuous watering and nurturing. Emphasis should be placed on constant watering and nurture. Like a tree without this, the social relationship will wither.

Conclusions

At one point in history being an outcast or lone wolf surely meant death. Since then we as humans have successfully dismantled the need for a tribe. We have gone further and dismantled any semblance of a tribe. This change has been rapid in the grand scheme of things. We are still biologically, psychologically and socially programmed to thrive in a social environment. Due to the lack of such a network, many issues are arising in society today. In order to repair these issues we must learn how to grow and strengthen our social circles. [2]

We can learn how to put ourselves out there to foster and forge relationships with new people no matter what stage we are in life. Like with any skill this takes consistent practice and effort on the part of the individual. As Shawn Achor says, success does not make happiness. Instead, happiness is at the center like the sun and success revolves around it. The first step is to recognize that a social network is a fundamental human need. From there we learn, practice and grow.

Finally, comprehending that we are all a culmination of every experience that we have had before this time can allow for more understanding. It is paramount that we regain sight of the fact that we are all very much more similar than we are different. By increasing our level of awareness around this and viewing others as humans in the same condition as ourselves, the hope is that we can grow empathy and compassion toward others. The world is in dire need of a shift like this.

Citations and Further Readings

[1] http://www.quoteswise.com/henry-ford-quotes-2.html

[2] Hari, Johann. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions. , 2018. Print.

Pete WilletteComment