This week's newsletter is dedicated to a discussion on the topics of the books of the month for August, Tribe and Braving the Wilderness.
Brad's Thoughts on Community and Belonging
Whenever I write about health and longevity I try to mention the big five: don't smoke; don't drink too much; eat whole foods in moderation; move your body regularly; and get outside of yourself by being in a community.
Sometimes people question that last principle. Should community really be standing on the same ground as those other things?
Research shows that loneliness, a growing concern in most developed countries, is really bad. One study including over 300,000 people found that loneliness is worse for your health than being sedentary or obese and on par with the risks of smoking.
Simply being in a community has some benefit, but the real good stuff comes from having a sense of belonging in a community. And to me, that's what Tribe and Braving the Wilderness are all about.
Belonging can be as challenging as it is powerful. It doesn't happen automatically. As Brene Brown and Sebastian Junger both write so eloquently, real belonging requires real work:
You've got to be true to yourself. (Faking it or trying to be someone you aren't to fit in isn't healthy.)
You've got to be vulnerable with others. ("Vulnerability doesn't come from trust, trust comes from vulnerability.")
You've got to be in environments where others are present to receive your vulnerability and care for it, and where you do the same for them. (Spaces conducive to full presence.)
It's pretty clear that belonging is antithetical to the current ethos: develop your personal brand, fast-paced, busy-crazed, distraction-always. Yet that doesn't make it impossible. If you prioritize belonging and role-model it, others will follow you and you'll find others who you want to follow. Start small. Gather a "salon" of a few folks and meet every few weeks to discuss important topics. Let it become a support group for life.
If you coach, manage, or teach, try to go beyond just team building and build true belonging. It's a lot harder and probably a lot more uncomfortable at first, but the long-term rewards are worth it. If you don't believe me, look at Shalane Flanagan, whose recent New York City marathon win was as much about her community as it was about her.
If you don't feel like you have belonging right now don't freak out. You're not alone. Lots of people feel this way. Confronting this reality is distressing, but it's probably better to confront it now than later, especially since it's highly changeable.
I'll close with one story to show just how unheroic cultivating belonging can be. It's crazy that this is a "story" and not just everyday life, but in today's world, it is what it is.
My wife and I live in an apartment building. We'd been here for about five months before we had our first kid. We'd casually bumped into the neighbors a few times, but that was it. The neighbors heard crying and all the other bustle that comes with bringing a new kid home so they knocked on our door one day and came with flowers. We exchanged names (this shouldn't have to take having a bay, by the way) and thanked them. We were totally floored. How kind of them to bring flowers. They said they love kids and offered to help. We took them up on it. They helped. Next came a serve-and-volley of vulnerability and trust; a path leading all the way to conversations about our deepest fears and the areas of our life in which we need the most support. What's interesting is that I don't often refer to these folks as friends. I still call them neighbors. This isn't at all intentional but perhaps it's meaningful. Maybe it's what neighbors are supposed to be. Partners in community. Partners in belonging.
Does this mean you should be best friends with your neighbors? Maybe, but maybe not. What it does mean is that community and belonging are often right around the corner. If we all take some concrete steps in that direction, we'll all be better off for it.
You Can Be Happy and Lonely at the Same Time
Storytelling and Great Teams
How the Shalane Flanagan Effect Works
How the Philadelphia 76'ers Built a Strong Team Culture
Steve's Thoughts on Community and Belonging
“Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.”
Channeling Self Determination Theory, Sebastian Junger gets to the heart of humanity's needs in his book Tribe. It’s the last piece of this trio—connection—that seems the simplest: cultivate good friendships and interact with others. But as Brene Brown points out in Braving the Wilderness, it’s easy to create superficial connection. We all belong to different ‘tribes.’ Maybe it’s an organized church or being fans of a sports team or alumni of a particular school or belonging to a particular political party. We congregate with those who seem similar, interacting every once in a while and asking questions about their job, family, or kids. Maybe we even send them a text message or comment on their Facebook page every couple of weeks.
In a modern world, we think we are connected thanks in part to all of the friends, followers, and, well, connections social media informs us we have. With the constant barrage, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of these connections are of a superficial nature. Modern society tells us that we are more connected than ever, yet mental health work screams that we are feeling more alone than ever. We are facing a mental health crisis of loneliness that may be as detrimental as obesity. Or as Junger states, “We live in a society that is basically at war with itself.”
How do we win this war? How do we create real connection?
“Tell me why you do this?”
As we sat in a circle, 26 athletes and 2 coaches, all eyes are on the person sitting in the center, about to answer the question. For the next hour, every individual visits the chair and pours out their why. Regardless of the answer, everyone has their own why. Everyone has his or her own story.
For the past two years, this is how we’ve finished the last night of our pre-season cross-country camp. After spending a couple of days together, stuck in cabins in the middle of nowhere, the walls come down, people become vulnerable, and deep connections are made.
Of all the “team bonding” things we’ve experimented with—from games to leadership meetings, to ‘boot camps’—allowing people to tell their story has been the most profound. It’s simple. It requires no tricks, or seminars, or trust falls. It’s not even about the specific question.
It’s about creating a place where people feel comfortable inching closer to being who they actually are. To open up themselves for others to see; to be vulnerable. To allow others to see them for who they are, and being completely okay with who that person is; faults, success, and all. True connection takes time. It takes work. It takes reaching past the superficial and understanding people at a deeper level.
As Brene Brown so eloquently stated, “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
Share Your Thoughts:
If you read Tribe or Braving the Wilderness we'd love to hear what you thought of the books. Reach out to us on twitter (Steve, Brad) or send us an e-mail.
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