How to Connect During Crisis

Let's not allow our differences to tear our communities apart.

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Last week’s newsletter was supposed to be about connection. 

Specifically focused on the epidemic of post-pandemic loneliness, the uptick in siloed work and education, increased reliance on (anti-social) social media as a proxy for engagement and interaction, and the rise in social anxiety, which has kept so many from reaching out to friends, joining group outings, or extending offers to gather.

But then Hamas slaughtered over 1400 civilians, marking October 7th, 2023, as the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, and as my beloved big sister and her family hid in a bomb shelter in Israel where they live, I became unable to focus or write anything longer than an Instagram post.

Almost immediately, I became a target of antisemitism online, while others in my community became targets of Muslim hate.

I do not want to write about politics here or rehash the past week, which decimated my heart and soul, as it likely has yours.

While I am not up to writing as comprehensive a piece as usual, I want to say a few words about connection.

It has become harder for many to find and build community in a world that stokes political, collegial, and social division and has led to a rise in social anxiety.

Since the pandemic, I’ve noticed a pattern in people meeting for the first time. Many have lost the ability to be in dialogue or to have a conversation. Instead, they monologue, interrupt, correct, and defend.

In their misguided efforts to feel seen and known, the impulse to co-opt conversation—rampant on social media—has now infiltrated our lived realities.

But this strategy to win at rightness acts as a tool of erasure, preventing others from feeling seen and known, positioning the driver of this misaligned strategy as ungenerous and uncompromising.

That desire to be seen without having to do the work of seeing leads them to fast forward past the uncertain, vulnerable middle. That skipped step is where true connection lives, and when it’s supplanted by a demand to be known RIGHT NOW, from their perspective only, it forecloses kinship.

The demand to be visible using strategies of erasure leaves conversation partners feeling how the driver of the failed strategy is trying not to feel. Both parties wind up feeling lonelier and more alienated.

This past week, on social media, people drew hard lines, took sides, leaned into their righteousness, confused feelings for facts, domineered entire comments sections, and spread disinformation and ignorance while blaming others for doing the same. Hate could have fueled the entire internet on subtext alone. Many people unfollowed one another. Large organizations remained silent, while others appeared to take sides, and many felt, saw, and perpetuated racism.

It was as ugly as it gets on social media.

When we don’t listen, when we talk over one another, shut people down, and volley obscenities, we inadvertently help sustain the crisis of isolation and division.

Connection can only occur when people recognize that their cause is not the only cause that matters. Actively listening and hearing other people’s pain does not mean your pain doesn’t matter. It’s a dialogue, an exchange.

The deeply felt divide online and off this past week made our inability to truly hear someone else’s pain, depriving many of validation, offering only a sense of erasure, and fueling even more despair and agony. We are too quick to stand against one another instead of standing for something with others who stand for something different.

The rhetoric of resistance is causing emotional and spiritual violence in all our communities.

It is easier to choose a side than it is to hold two thoughts in tension. It’s easier to join the loudest voices and uphold well-trodden rallying cries than to acknowledge that we don’t understand the subtext in the chants we echo threaten an entire community of people.

We are not good at doing hard things, at being challenged, at conceding, apologizing, or trying again.

But we can be.

If every one of us kept aloft the truth that there is always something we do not understand.

There is always something we don’t know.

There is always something we’re overlooking, perpetuating, avoiding, or ignoring.

When we are convicted of our rightness, we cannot hear other people with different values, beliefs, and trauma tell their truth.

When we choose to believe we know best because our convictions tell us so, we have closed the door on learning what we might not be seeing, what we might be overlooking, or how we are perpetuating the same egregious oppression that we fight against.

To learn is to grow, and to grow is to change, and we are closing the door on change. We cannot demand others grow while refusing to accept there is more for us to learn.

When we choose the easy thing, we lose the depth of engagement that fosters connection.

So, perhaps, as we go forward with our days, we can hold one shared truth together—there is always something you don’t know. Find out what it is. See if you can understand how it must feel to be another.

Everyone’s in pain, and all pain wants is to be acknowledged and validated. So, integrate the pain of others by reflecting it back and asking for the same, or we will all remain forever stuck.

Until next week, I will remain...



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Cover image @JPAG Altelier

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