By Melissa Bates
Surrounded by Others Yet Alone
We live in a very busy world. Too often, I find myself caught up in the day-to-day shuffle called “living.” I tend to get so preoccupied with the 101 things I have to get done that I find I’ve lost touch with those around me. Being constantly surrounded by hundreds of other people who are also living extremely and arguably, unnaturally isolated lives—this is what disconnection looks like.
The problem with navigating through life this way is that we lose the essence of what it means to be human. Human connection matters. It’s at the core of who we are as human beings and isn’t something we can afford to lose.
Living in a time in which so much seems to divide and separate us, it’s now more essential than ever that we feel what it’s like to truly be connected to one another. It’s only this type of connection that has the power to forge the level of unity required to transform our world for the better.
The Importance of Maintaining Communal Values
Humans are communal beings. The feeling of belonging that’s derived from living and participating in a community fulfills a human need that can’t be satisfied through any other means. It’s our innate communal nature that’s at the heart of the displays of co-operation, sharing and compassion that have allowed human beings to survive as long as we have.
When we allow the erosion of community, we lose these communal values that are far more true to our human nature than socially imposed traits such as selfishness and individualism. With this loss of connection comes the loss of empathy and compassion.
In many ways, now, it feels as though we’ve all become strangers focusing only on what separates us rather than what unites us. Perhaps this is an elaborate divide-and-conquer strategy created by a select few to maintain power and neutralize the masses, or perhaps it’s simply the result of trying to fit into a world that tends to value the idea of individual success over collective accomplishment.
Let’s Think as “We” Instead of “Me”
With “individualism,” I’m not referring to the notion of freedom of expression and being your own unique person, but rather the ideology that values and places significant emphasis on the “me” rather than the “we.”
The dismantling of community and the disregard for the notion that our choices affect so much more than just ourselves are examples of the consequences of this self-centred mentality. The misguided focus of “individualism” leads us on a path so self-indulgent that we become oblivious and seemingly unbothered by the human suffering, environmental destruction and cruelty that’s often occurring all around us.
Human connection is so much more than merely having trivial interactions with other human beings. It’s the feeling of being deeply connected to and being a valued member of the human race.
Yes, purpose is important. We want to feel that what we’re doing matters, that our individual existence is meaningful. However, as human beings, we also innately crave deep, meaningful connections with other humans. Belonging to and having a valuable role within a community is what creates the connection that allows us to see ourselves as part of something bigger.
Perhaps we’ve gone wrong by distorting the idea of finding purpose and making it a personal endeavour. We measure success by individual accomplishments, while offering no real praise or acknowledgement of collective contributions. Chasing this idea of what it means to be successful often leaves people feeling grossly unfulfilled once they’ve reached all the milestones on their path to success.
A New Way of Measuring Success?
What if, instead of individual achievements, we measured success by how well we treat one another or by the extent to which we contribute to our communities? Individualism, as an ideology, greatly conflicts with the premise of what it means to live and take part in a community. When there’s more value placed on individual needs and wants than what’s beneficial to the larger whole, this leads to the inequitable treatment of human beings and a significant weakening of communities.
One thing individualism teaches us is that there’s only so much happiness and success to go around, and in order to attain these things we must trade in our compassion for ruthless competition. Other people are just stepping stones on our climb to the “top” and we begin to relish the failures of others that may open doors for us. It’s at this point that we stop functioning as members of the human race and instead, begin to function as competitors in the “race” against other humans.
Connection is what sparks the fire within each of us that prompts us to stand up and speak out when we bear witness to suffering and destruction. Individualism is what silences us—it’s the foundation of the, “If it doesn’t affect me directly, why should I care?” attitude.
Everything in the World Is Connected
The truth is, we’re all connected. We’re connected to each other, to the trees, to the oceans, to the elephants that roam sub-Saharan Africa and to the insects that pollinate the food we require to survive. All species and ecosystems are interdependent on each other in more ways than we’ll ever know.
As humans, it’s our job to take care of one another in a way that enables us to feel that connection and live our lives in such a way that it’s honoured and respected. The decisions we make on a daily basis have the power to uphold the status quo or radically transform the world in which we live. From the foods we eat to our careers, if we simply start making choices from a selfless community-based perspective, we’ll be surprised at how things will begin to change. We can’t practice compassion if we don’t feel connected, and connections between humans can’t be forged without the building and strengthening of community.
Compassion, connection, community—these three values are the building blocks of our humanity. They’re what make us who we are. The power to change the world is in our hands—all we have to do is be human!