Part 2 of the Cultivating Belonging Series • Conscious Connection in a Time of Isolation
Imagine aerialists in a high wire act - how they must retain a deep awareness of one another to maintain their sense of balance at a precarious height. In a pandemic year, we too find ourselves in a balancing act, with the movement of one affecting us all.
For many in the United States, our social construct created distinct environments for home, work and school. As the pandemic took hold, the lines blurred and our comfortable habits disappeared overnight.
Isolation and physical distancing now require us to interact with the outside world through the portal of a computer screen.
When it comes to fostering a sense of belonging, texts and emails are not the same as face-to-face meetings. In her Ted Talk referenced in Part 1 of this series, Susan Pinker explains the importance of connecting live. Eye contact and physical interaction release oxytocin, helping to build trust, while reducing cortisol levels, which lowers stress.
The work of Elizabeth Redcay at the University of Maryland supports Pinker. Redcay’s research found in her research that brain activity is significantly higher during live, dynamic interactions than while watching a static presentation.
This research casts new light on our collective loss of a sense of belonging, and reveals some of the impact that physical distancing has on our mental well-being.
We are resilient creatures, able to adapt to rapid change. Yet we are also biologically designed to interact with others and to be part of a group, and so find it challenging to thrive when physically apart.
Our social construct has been altered. In the office, employees exchange fleeting conversations with others at the coffee station and while passing one another in the hallway. When we are working virtually, confined to the house, these casual yet important interactions may go by the wayside. If contact between employees, managers and leaders becomes mostly strategic, the personal connection may be lost.
Ingrained habits that help us to transition between one space and another can be another casualty of the move to working online. Even after the longest day, the commute provided time to shift from the professional mindset and arrive back at home ready to focus on personal relationships.
Entire families are now learning and working from one home, often in a confined space. As many long-standing domestic habits fall away, tension increases. More strategic decision-making is required in terms of who will be able to do what, when and from where. Given all of that, is it surprising that the divorce rate escalated globally in 2020?
Children experience belonging at school, but less so in remote learning. Might that explain some of the statistics of depression and suicide we are seeing among the young?
Some researchers attribute the fatigue so many are feeling at this time to the constant need to re-evaluate how things must be done. We can no longer rely on long-standing habits of workdays and workweeks, or repeat our recurring and established patterns for waking up, commuting, and having our children connect with others in school and activities.
Our American experience of 2020 has been particularly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). In a nod to the challenges encountered in this pandemic season, some have added another C to the long standing acronym - VUCCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, COVID and Ambiguous).
How then do we, as leaders and coaches actively working with relationship, foster belonging and align on purpose in a time of constant emergence and upheaval?
We have the ability to create new social constructs to fit our online interactions. As we and other CRR Global partners made the switch to offering online training in 2020, we were delighted to confirm that you don’t have to be in the same physical space to connect at a deep level.
Through thoughtful design of our virtual spaces, we can still foster belonging. In her article, Canadian partner Kerry Woodcock discusses how Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI™) can be used to expand the emotional aperture in virtual settings.
Adapting new habits is necessary in responding to this new emergence which requires us to isolate in so many ways.
What might be the new ways to find connection? Many of us created the new habit of regular virtual social visits via Zoom or another platform. Being able to see the faces of friends and family makes such a difference to the depth of our connection. It's still possible to share a morning coffee with family members or a dinner gathering with friends. (Introverted friends have even shared their relief at being released from the time commitment of traditional get-togethers.)
2020 was a year of shock and grief. Along with the many lives that have been lost, we also mourn the disappearance of so much that was reliable and predictable. Allow time to work through the grief associated with these losses. We have been through what some call the “long goodbye.”
From the perspective of finding new habits and ways of belonging, we may now be in the messy middle. We have an opportunity to release habits which cannot serve us in this new experience, and to engage with others in developing new ones to help us adapt to our current reality. This is a journey to be shared. Reach for connection in this search and collaborate on shaping new choices.
The Ubuntu saying is very fitting for this moment in time…“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That is the simple but complex recipe for tapping into a new sense of belonging!
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll look at a process which helps us to consciously engage systems in creating connection and belonging.
In the meantime, ponder these questions.
On a personal level:
On a professional level:
While we are physically limited in our present reality, our opportunity to connect with others across the globe has multiplied. Through thoughtful design of our virtual and in-person spaces, we can foster the belonging we crave.
This is the second in a series of articles on belonging. In the next installment, Marita shares a practical tool for fostering belonging within a team.
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