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Creating Unity of Purpose Through Shared Experiences

Dear Readers,
 
This summer was unlike any other. We caught up on postponed travel and attended events delayed by Covid. Friends checked items off on their bucket lists, shared posts of children departing for summer camp after a two-year hiatus and themselves enjoying date nights. 
 
My husband, sister, and I enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity visiting the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge near the Arctic Circle. As we assembled with 12 other adventurers, common connections and interests were quickly identified. The group formed a rhythm creating a feeling of community. We spoke of past travels, studied each other’s camera equipment, and eagerly air-dropped photos at the end of the day. Our shared experience became the focus of our discussions. We became a part of a collective personal history.
 
On trips, I am always struck by how groups form and coalesce despite cultural differences. Sharing experiences with others provides a sense of connectedness and accomplishment when we engage in a task or activity together.  A sense of belonging in the moment is important to us and happens more often than we realize. For example, when you and other airline passengers are running to catch a flight, you become known as “the group that barely made it.”  We are not like polar bears, who tend to live solitary lives except when raising cubs. Yet, we can learn from their behavior and those we gather with to do so.
 
Whether on a tour or at summer camp, individuals create informal social agreements based a tacit understanding on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Children on the playground are encouraged to watch out for the little ones. Parents meet for the first time and chime in with calls, “Don’t go too far.” We are reminded that Lord of the Flies is the exception not the norm.
 
Lately, I have become a bit more philosophical as I participate in global forums discussing societal fragmentation and the rise of distrust. I revisit the Classics – Socrates, Hobbes, Thoreau. Classical political theory shows that distrust is not new. We are grappling with the same issues that have been around since Adam and Eve. Our mode of speech and communication may have changed, but at our core we are still human. The generous, the greedy, and the gossipers are referenced throughout the ages. 
 
History also reminds us that we can spend an inordinate amount of time tweaking systems without accomplishing our objectives to achieve a perfect society. In fact, communist and authoritarian regimes demonstrate we have done more harm than good through attempts to control conversation outcomes. Yet, the invisible hand of self-interest and the desire to be heard finds a way around rules and roadblocks established.
 
During the pandemic, the absence of gatherings and cross-cultural exchanges contributed to our fragmentation. We suffered distrust as our primary outlet became social media and Zoom.  We avoided conversation with new people because we did not know if they had been vaccinated. Our isolation and frustration grew.
 
Reflecting on our summer travel experiences, I am reminded that the most powerful tool to offset distrust are sharing experiences through increasing cultural exchanges across state and national lines to expose us to new ideas, sporting events or casual conversations with someone in a dog park. Formality is not required, but casual conversation is a must.
 
Investing our time in strengthening the arms of civil society enables us to find positive outlets for doing good together. We can rebuild trust in each other when people view a logical order in which everyone shares a benefit, hears someone else’s point of view, and enjoys meeting someone who is different. Every time we link arms with another person to solve a problem or share an experience, we show collaboration and inclusiveness in action. We build momentum towards a more positive outlook with observable results. Our individual actions empower us to create meaningful change and retake control of our daily lives contributing to a healthier work environment, community, or school.

Our enemy isn’t our neighbor, our work colleagues, or a professor. The enemy is when we retreat to our bubble and forget that we have more in common than we think.

"When we establish human connections within the context of shared experience we create community wherever we go."

- Gina Greenlee,
Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road

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