How to Connect With Others

By Anna Sidana
Founder, One Million Lights
November 12, 2014
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Original article here


It is unusual for me to take the time to enjoy a cup of coffee without having my cell phone handy or my computer open. But today, after completing a project and waiting for the next one to come along — yes, I did not overlap projects for a change — I am sitting at a coffee shop in downtown Palo Alto and enjoying a cup of Mayan spice hot chocolate. As I sit down to savor the taste of high quality chocolate and refined coffee with a hint of heat and spices, I wonder to myself — why are we in such a hurry?

Some of this seems obvious. Everything in our lives is faster. Cars, phones, computers and entire industries are moving faster. Perhaps some of this is a good thing. We can get medical care just in time, food delivered to our doors as needed and call someone instantly — or better still, text them for an immediate response whether they are working, shopping, tending to children or otherwise.

I am guilty of all this myself. My plate is always full. But does it need to be? Two recent stories from the field brought this home to me. Sierra and Meg had just returned from making light distributions in South Africa and their stories caused me to pause.

Sierra and Meg, two very busy young ladies were in South Africa over the summer to distribute over 7000 solar lights to rural communities of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. They had been planning the distribution for months. All the details were ironed out ahead of time — locations, contacts, transportation and the distribution ceremonies themselves. Everything went as planned.

When they returned, they each wrote about their experiences. They talked about the children and the people who received the lights. They expressed the shared joy of bringing light and the feeling of compassion as they saw the children dream big dreams for themselves and the mama’s dream about improving their lives — perhaps getting rid of toxic kerosene, working into the night or just feeling safer walking home from the fields late at night. They danced, sang and celebrated.

Sierra and Meg joined the families in their dances and slowed down to meet with them and listen to their stories. They were able to immerse themselves in the culture, the people, the language and the very spirit of that community.

What struck me about their stories is the depth of feeling and common bond that was felt between our ambassadors and the recipients. It was clear to me that the connection between the two would not be the same if we had simply shipped the lights over. If we had not taken the time to have our ambassadors deliver lights in person, taking the time to get to know the families and communities, we would have lost something. This was only possible through the human interaction. Without a common language, the emotions and thoughts needed no words. The warmth of the hugs, the smiles of happiness, the gratification in their dances and the welcome in their gestures were seen, felt and experienced. They needed no translation. No gadgets. This bond could not have occurred without this personal contact.

So coming back to my life in the fast lane, it made me think. We are communicating all the time in our fast-paced lives, and on our beautiful new gadgets, chasing our own dreams, many of us barely managing to stay on the treadmill of life. But what have we lost?

Even with being so close and able to travel or communicate instantly, our relationships have become distant. Text, email and social networks have taken over our communications and robbed us of the real essence of our communication. Our communications are missing the human element that is the kernel of human connection and essential to our very being. We are communicating but not connecting.

What Sierra and Meg experienced was the spirit of what creates a genuine connection. Unbeknownst to them, they practiced the seven pillars of connecting with people. According to a Forbes article by the Young Entrepreneur council the seven pillars include sincerity, attention to detail, providing genuine help, making real friends, persistence and being unforgettable. They achieved all of these and created a long-term connection.

To experience that connection, take your foot off the accelerator and interact with others. Turn off your phones and put your entire being forward. Feel with all your senses and your heart. Engage.

In addition, I highly recommend a cup of Mayan spice hot chocolate — preferably with a friend.