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A New Normal of Connection and Contribution

I wrote Every Monday Matters for Families as an invitation to bring people back together. Actually, I wanted to do more than invite people, I wanted shake them from head-to-toe and shoot them out of canon towards connection.

Today, more than ever, we’re in deep need of connection and relationship. We’re still in the throes of a pandemic that has kept us locked up and locked down for a year and a half. Social distancing has created the ideal breeding ground for technologies that were already disconnecting us to weave their way deeper into our lives. Yes, it’s often said we’re connected more than ever because of our devices and apps, but connection doesn’t mean connectedness. “Friends,” “Fans,” or “Followers” are not necessarily symbiotic, life-giving relationships that create a deep and real sense of belonging or feelings of being valued…connectedness. Thankfully, we were all Zoom’ed off our feet, which allowed us to continue working and connecting “face-to-face” with friends and family; however, even Zoom can’t replace a hug from a loved one or a walk in the park.

It’s time for us to make relationships our top priority. I know it might be anxiety provoking to step out of our safe spaces. I know there’s still a lot of confusion about what the next new normal is going to look like. And, I know we are seeing a surge in COVID numbers again and safety absolutely matters. But we have come to a moment in time we can’t ignore. Our isolation and disconnectedness doesn’t just feel bad, it’s literally killing us.

A study by Cigna in 2020, reported more than 60% of Americans feel lonely. According to the study, people dealing with chronic loneliness may:

  • Experience the inability to connect with others on a deeper, more intimate level
  • Have acquaintances, but no “best” or “close” friend
  • Have feelings that no one “gets” them
  • Feel isolated, even if surrounded by dozens of people
  • Have negative feelings of self-doubt and self-worth
  • Feel exhausted

Additionally, a recent meta-study conducted by the University of York in the United Kingdom found that lonely people have a 29% increased risk of a heart attack and a 32% heightened risk of a stroke. To give context to these statistics, these percentages are just about the same for people who smoke or are obese.

So where do we go from here?

I have an idea…let’s start with family.

Now I’m not going to get all churchy on you, but for the sake of establishing the concept of “family” I’m going to take some creative license on a commonly shared scripture from the bible—“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

So here’s my definition of family:  “Where two or more are gathered together to love, nurture, accept, and encourage one another.” In my opinion, family is not just our biological family. We might also have families at work, in a club or team, in our neighborhood, in a walking group, or through a hobby. In other words, we all potentially play a role in several families at the same time.

It’s clear to me that I lucky enough to be a part of several families and they all play a significant role in my life. I hope it’s the same for you. This is a beautiful reality for these families love, nurture, accept, and encourage me uniquely every single day. However, it can also be a tad overwhelming, because I want to contribute to every member of each of these families just the same—which brings me to my ask of you.

Families take effort. Remember, families are more than a string that connects to individuals. Families take a commitment by all members to contribute to, respect, appreciate, and cherish what it means to be one of the members. Families are about the greater good, not the individual. Families require empathy and compassion. Families understand the goal is help one another grow and to create experiences and moments together that will never be forgotten. And, arguably most importantly, families can and should never be taken for granted.

So ask yourself two questions:

  1. What families are you a part of?
  2. What do you contribute to each of them?

With complete empathy and love, if your answer to the first question was “none” it’s time to lean in. I know loneliness, depression, and anxiety can be crippling; I suffered from them for many dark years. But I also know there is a cause and effect to all of our choices and that we can choose to change and grow. So go find your first person and start a family of two that loves, nurtures, accepts, and encourages one another. Then grow that family with people committed to the same vision.

If your answer to the first question was “one or more,” but your answer to the second question was something like “not much” or “not enough,” then you now know what to do to step it up. Remember, families are only as strong as each person’s contribution and weak links never make for a strong bond.

In the spirit of building families, big and small, let’s make the next new normal all about “connection” and “contribution.” We were designed to be in family with one another, so let’s stop living like we weren’t. It doesn’t work for us and it doesn’t work for humanity as a whole. I’m going “all in” when it comes to family, and I hope you join me in this effort. I know there are plenty of people in your life that will be glad you did as well.

Enjoy. You matter.

 

- Matthew Emerzian, author of Every Monday Matters for Families

August 30, 2021
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