The Lady at the Bus Stop
About a week ago, my buddy and me were walking to the train station after a nice afternoon of playing with ladybugs, discussing business ideas and getting a sun stroke, when we suddenly passed a middle-aged woman crying at a bus stop.
After almost walking past her at first, we stopped to ask her what was up. She told us the bus driver had forgotten to pick her up. As she explained the situation we learned that she lived 10 minutes away from that stop.
I tried to tell her I had the same thing happen to me before. That I knew it sucked, but all would be fine. That a new bus was coming in 10 minutes and if she’d stand a little closer to the road and wave at the driver, this one wouldn’t forget to stop.
But my words didn’t seem to solve the problem for her.
In my head I already thought of telling her “Look, it’s only a 10 minute walk. The weather is be-au-ti-ful. Just wo-man up, enjoy the walk and you’ll be home before the next bus is even here.”
But as I got closer to her, it started to dawn on me that what upset her so much probably had nothing to do with her getting home on time.
All she yearned for deep down, I realized, was simply for someone to finally acknowledge her existence as a human being in a world where her life didn’t seem to have any significant meaning. That bus driver had sent her the message that people wouldn’t even do that if they were paid for it.
In the end instead of giving her my advice, we just gave each other a quick hug.
As I smelled the hint of wine on her breath and saw her face light up with gratitude for a gesture so simple, I knew I had indeed, discovered her real issue.
Please Believe Me, I'm Real
The next day I realized that the lady at the bus stop wasn’t alone. The moment reminded me of two passages from books I had read. The first one was Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking” where she spoke about how every artist in a way, is creating to verify their own existence, constantly thinking “please believe me, I’m real” with every exchange of value.
While I never had that thought consciously crossing my mind, I could somehow identify with that idea very deeply. I guess on some level I do feel that way when writing or performing music, or even when sharing my thoughts on this blog.
The second was something I read in Nathaniel Branden’s “Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” which is definitely among the top 3 books I think anyone on this entire planet should read right now before doing anything else. (Seriously, buy it as soon as you’re done reading this post, or even before 😉 It's more important than anything you’ll ever learn in school. )
In a chapter about Self-Assertiveness, Nathaniel talks about how he was once teaching a group of students about the concept and asked different people to come to the front of the class and say aloud “I have a right to exist.”
“Say it slowly and notice how you feel saying it.”, he said, “And while you are doing this, I want everyone in the class to consider: Do you believe him? Do you think he really feels what he is saying?”
He found out it was nearly impossible to say this and mean it for 99% of the people without sounding either defensive (as if someone was arguing with them or challenging about) , pleading (begging for permission to say it, or even forgiveness) or overly arrogant as if an actor would be saying it in the role of his character.
For some reason none of the students -who otherwise had no problem saying other stuff in front of the group,- were able to assert with serenity and confidence that they “had a right to exist” as an individual.
This may sound unbelievable if you haven’t done this yourself but the first person I talked to about this exercise, told me she once had to do an exercise like this and it even caused her to cry. This was coming from someone who definitely has a lot of value to offer to the world, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that isn’t a rare thing to happen with people.
The People You Usually Don't See
While this exercise was done with motivated psychology students still working towards a bright future, a lot of people have it much worse:
When I did door to door sales for a while, I was shocked to meet so many people who seemingly never get out and literally had a vibe where you could feel that they genuinely believed no one would even notice if one day they just ceased to exist.
Sometimes I could tell they didn’t really want to subscribe to the service I was selling but would probably do it anyway just because I was the first person who finally took the time to listen to them for a couple of minutes. Other times they were even past the point where they could feel that gratitude, and their energy felt so lifeless and numb that I wanted to end the conversation and move to the next door as fast as I could. Regardless, it was still an amazing job 😉
Why is it that so many of us feel like we’re nothing but a meaningless number in a big world that would work perfectly without us?
I think there’s lots of reasons. One of those could be that we literally put ourselves in such a position:
Most of us choose a job based on the false sense of monetary security it gives us, as opposed to a profession based on our specific strengths and unique contribution.
Think about it. In the first example you actually are a replaceable cog in the machine. There is always someone who can replace you, so you will not be valued for your personality. That is why you feel that way. The security you seem to get in return, is indeed, not real because a single person holds the control over your financial well-being and can fire you whenever it makes sense for them or the business.
On the other hand, if you center your career around your unique value as a person, that makes you indispensable. For example, it’s impossible to think Nirvana would still exist with another front-man, because Kurt Cobain’s career was built around his specific personality. It would also be pretty hard to replace Elon Musk or Kermit the Frog.
Yes, those are extreme examples, but I used those because I’m sure you know them. There’s lots of people with much more modest profiles who are equally irreplaceable. (I’ll admit it, that song is catchy as fuck.)
Another important contributor is the fact that in schools, we are raised to compare ourselves to others from a young age. Who has the best grades? Who is the winner?
The problem is that this is not a very productive attitude when it comes to building kids’ self-esteem. There is always someone who is better at most things in life than you, even in the unlikely event that you are the number 1 best at something else. Focusing on those things can easily give you the feeling that you matter less than others because you have nothing important or impressive to show for. From our very first exams we are lead to believe we’re supposed to meet other people’s standards and expectations in this world, while this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
But looking at the example of the woman at the bus stop, and how she reacted to our hug, I think there is one reason that rises above all the others:
The Forgotten Importance of Human Connection
For the most part of our history as a species we lived as foragers in small tribes of +/- 150 people. That means in order to survive and cooperate as a group in the best way possible, it was of crucial importance to have strong intimate connections with all the other people in the tribe.
Since the advent of farming and sedentary societies, and especially since the industrial and digital revolutions, this emphasis on intimate connections in our society has been largely pushed to the background.
Friends are now the people who you hang with in your leisure time when you’re not working to ensure your survival, and physical intimacy is something you have with your lawfully wedded partner, not natural behavior to strengthen the bonds with other members of the tribe.
Many people now live a life in isolation or limited to superficial friendships based on geographical proximity rather than genuine connections. It has become impossible for us to know everyone who we share this world with and for this reason it’s also easy to feel like no one really knows you and your life isn’t very important for the world in general, aside from your close friends or family.
Yet we are all still hard-wired to crave those things. We want to feel connected to the people around us. To be accepted by a group, to be valued for who we are. To love and be loved in return.
I remember one night when a good friend told me the only thing she ever really wanted was for someone to see her for all that she was and say “It’s okay to be who you are”. I happened to feel a little off that night and didn’t really know what to do about it, so she took me to her favorite “hiding spot”.
As we sat there all night, I could totally tell why she liked it that much. The place was so peaceful and beautiful. It was a place where you felt completely at ease and free to be who you wanted to be without getting judged.
I thought to myself “This place, is exactly what I want to be for everyone I’ll ever meet in this life.”
5 Ways to Make People Feel Like They Matter and Bring Back that Connection
While changing the system may be a bit of long shot (but not impossible), it is remarkably easy to change your own life, and the lives of all the people you come into contact with through small actions that go a long way : - )
Hugging that woman wasn’t just me helping her. It genuinely felt good for me, just like it feels good to sit around a fire all night and connect more deeply with friends and friends of friends, to unexpectedly meet someone I like enough to spend an entire night with, or even when a stranger smiles at me, I smile back and we have that weird strangers-smiling-at-each-other-for-no-reason-moment.
The reason all these things feel so good is because they actually give us a glimpse of something essential to the experience of being human that has always been there throughout history, but has now become more of a “special moments” thing to most us, rather than the natural part of everyday life it once was.
Let’s face it, we all have lots of unfulfilled needs in this area. We just never take the time to be really honest to ourselves and admit how much we still lack. But every bar, club and brothel is full of people to prove it. Even worse, a lot of people feel so unappreciated for who they really are that they would rather join a subculture and adjust their own behavior to become more loved, than to completely stay true to their individual personality.
However, because we’re raised in ways so out of touch with those things, we’ve become very awkward and insecure about taking action towards actually fulfilling those needs.
While it will probably take a while until our entire society gets back in touch with this and we start living in a system that’s more beneficial for ourselves and the planet we live on, there are lots of things all of us can do right now to not only make the people around us feel more special but also fulfill that need for ourselves at the same time.
Here’s a few off the top of my head:
Rule #1: Never Let a Compliment Go Unspoken
This is a really easy one to skip on, especially for men. We are taught that expressing our emotions out loud makes us less masculine. I learned how important this was when my best friend committed suicide. I realized that I had never told him how much I loved him, because that’s supposedly an “unmanly” thing to say. That reason sounded pretty stupid though, once I was robbed of the chance to ever tell him anymore. Something that would've only taken 2 seconds and make him feel really good.
Since then I’ve learned that honestly expressing your most vulnerable emotions can be one of the most liberating things you can ever do.
When doing this, it’s very important that your compliment is sincere and unconditional. You cannot compliment someone and secretly hope you’ll get something back from them in return. That actually makes your connection less authentic.
For example, last weekend a woman told me she thought I was hot and already meant to tell me that for 5 years. That’s a lovely compliment to get from a lovely lady.
After it she said “Well, what do you think of me?” wich made it kind of interesting. I thought she was pretty too, but I found it very hard to give a sincere compliment after that because I could no longer do it without "just giving her the same in return”. Too bad, because I still genuinely wanted to, and it also lessened the impact of her own compliment for me. I'll probably tell her some other day.
On the other hand, the day before that, I got a message from one of my best friends who told me “I love you man. You’re a cool dude. Glad I know you.” Completely out of the blue and without asking for anything in return. Something as simple as that made me feel like I was very important in someone else’s life, and also reminded me of how important he was for me, so it strengthened the feeling of connection I had with him.
In short: the next time you think something positive about anyone, just go ahead and say it. Whatever it is. (If you’re reading this, I briefly ran into you this weekend and forgot to tell you that you always smell amazing. There, fixed it 😉 )
If you can be really specific and tell that person exactly what you value so much about them, you will show them even more how much they matter in the world 🙂
Rule #2: Talk to People for No Other Reason Than Getting to Know Them
I love approaching strangers. I’ve also noticed how sometimes people react a little weird or cautious when you do it. It’s as if their first thought is “What does this guy want from me?”
I get it. Most people only get approached by people who either want to sell them something or want to get into their pants. It’s like just wanting to get to know someone is something that rarely happens anymore.
I especially found that I enjoyed getting to know people I normally wouldn’t talk to. Old people, random people who sit next to me on the train, tourists, people who I have a certain prejudice against… You might wonder what the point of this is? It re-establishes the feeling of connectedness you naturally used to have with all the other people around you.
Not so long ago, I saw two Muslim women wearing a hijab sitting a couple of meters away from me. To be honest, I thought they were kinda hot, but at first I didn’t even bother approaching because I have to admit, I hold a lot of prejudices against religious people. I've abruptly ended conversations more than once because the other person told me that "the bible is the truth".
At one point they were taking a selfie so I spontaneously photobombed them and initiated a conversation anyway. It turned out to be a very long and fun talk. My friend joined afterwards and we really enjoyed getting to know them. Our differences actually made it more fun. Both sides became genuinely curious about the funny ways in which the other person was living and we really started to like each other.
I think speaking with a diverse group of strangers from all colors, walks of life and sexual orientations is one of the best things you can do to not only become smarter and more open-minded, but increase the feeling of connection you have with other people.
We always focus on the differences between us and that other guy. (“The killer was a gay immigrant from the poor side of town who had ties with organization X.”) While we often forget that we all have the same needs and wants. We all feel similar things, face the same struggles and have the same questions.
We are all just people with more similarities than differences, trying to make the best of our lives.
...and if you do, I guess it's time to get to know some random strangers!
Rule #3: Random acts of Kindness
I’ll keep this one super short. Give a homeless person your lunch, give a busker some money if you like his music, carry an old ladies’ groceries. If you’re a rich business man, give me some of your left-over millions for no reason at all. You know what I mean 😉
Rule #4: Become More Physical
I’m really hesitant to talk about this because if the wrong people read this they might start doing this in a disrespectful way (I've seen what happens when the wrong people follow well-intentioned advice from dating coaches), but I'll try to do my best to be nuanced:
One of the most important things missing from human connection in our society is physicality, and it is also one of the best ways to make someone feel appreciated and loved as a person.
I feel like for a lot of people there’s a big barrier standing in the way expressing the appreciation they feel for the people around them (unless they're drunk 😉 ). I know it definitely used to be that way for me.
It used to be weird for me to hug my male friends, but as I started developing this side of myself and became a more huggy person I noticed this actually feels very natural and strengthens the friendship. It’s also starting to feel natural for me get more physical or sexual with female friends for no other reason than the fact that I like them as a person (so without expecting anything from them in return).
I used to think that would weird them out or cross a line for them because that’s what we’re raised to believe, but the more I did it, the more I discovered that feeling was mutual most of the time but never talked about because people would judge them for it. (That doesn't mean it will be that way with everyone.)
Recently I’m even starting to notice it’s not weird to get physical with strangers provided you do feel a genuine mutual connection with them.
It is simply a natural and important way of connecting for us we have lost touch with over the years.
However, I've found that whether people respond positively or negatively to this depends a lot on the underlying mindset you have, which sadly, is the wrong one for most people:
SO BEFORE YOU GO AROUND AND START USING THIS BLOG AS AN EXCUSE TO GET ALL RAPY ON OTHER PEOPLE'S ASS, PLEASE READ THIS VERY CAREFULLY:
I'm convinced the need for a physical expression of the connection we feel for each other is one of the biggest unmet needs in our entire society. Every bar is filled with people trying to get physical with others in a downright creepy and disrespectful manner, because they have become desperate to fulfill their own need for physicality with no regard for others.
An even bigger problem is that we’ve become totally disconnected with the place this need originated from. We used to get physical with each other as a way of bonding and an expression of our appreciation or fascination with each other. However, as we're raised in a society that objectifies both women and men, and a culture that still passes on remnants of some fucked-up Christian beliefs about sexuality to the next generation, we grow up feeling lonely in the middle of a crowded room, with little awareness of what this need really is and how to fulfill it.
The more it gets neglected the bigger the need grows, but the way we deal with (especially men) causes our understanding of that need to become even more blurry and twisted. From an early age, the main person men learn to express their physical relationship with, is their own hand while watching porn.
This is a big problem, because every time they do this, they disconnect that feeling of physical satisfaction from actually being with a woman (or another man) who has a genuine personality. So they start objectifying women in their head systematically, making it much harder to connect with a real woman in person.
Even worse, they are also habitually training themselves to express their sexuality in secret , to repress it when they are with others and to attach feelings like shame or guilt to it (thanks to those same Christian beliefs).
After repeated porn use, they start to get desensitized to the original “dose” (just like with any habit), and to get the same dopamine spike they need to watch weirder and more unnatural porn over the years, so their vision about physicality starts to get further and further away from the truth the older they get.
Then when they start meeting real people, they lose any kind of social awareness, since on a subconscious level they no longer see women as “people” but as "tools to fulfill a need that's been neglected for years" , causing them to act with no regard for any feedback they receive from them. For this reason they go out show behavior bordering on sexual harassment every single week. They have actually become so ignorant for the feedback that they receive from women that they keep doing it for years even after failing every single week.
They never realize the problem is their own behavior. No, the woman most be a real bitch if she thinks they are not good enough for her, they reason. Because 90% of the women they see are always willing to do whatever they want from them. The only problem is those women are actresses.
All the worked up frustration from over the years also makes them enter every interaction with every woman as if they need something from them. This is a surefire way to creep people out, and that's exactly why I want to be very careful with this part. If you're not sure what I mean, just think of a person who came to socialize with you not for who you were as a person but because they wanted some kind of favor from you. Maybe it was your job, maybe they wanted you to lend them some money, or wanted to hit on one of your friends.
That felt really uneasy, didn't it? Well, that's what most men do to women every day.
Men also do it to each other by the way. I have a friend for example who I really care about but rarely enjoy hanging out with because I always feel like he's trying to use me to make him feel less lonely. It just doesn't feel authentic and creeps people out.
So while I do think becoming more physically affectionate with each other is actually the most important part of re-establishing this feeling of connection in western society, if you’re a man (or a woman who sexually harasses people, they exist) I’d like to give you this advice before working on this part:
Get your mindset right first. Learn to read social cues, and never ever get physical because you want to get something from the other person. Only do it because you want to make them feel good as a genuine expression of your appreciation for their presence.
Oh, and if you’re a man: stop watching porn. Yes, I said it. No matter what they tell you, it is NOT weird or unnatural to not watch porn. People have not watched porn for the bigger part of history. Just because everyone does it, doesn't mean it's a good thing. (Coca Cola. Wink wink.)
I can really tell the difference between my friends who watch porn habitually and my friends who don’t. Interestingly, the second group is also a lot more comfortable with non-sexual hugs. If you need an extra motivation, I’m convinced not masturbating actually makes you more attractive to women as well and increases your motivation for everything in life 😉
Once you cleared your mindset of all those wrong ideas, you can start to become more physical with everyone you meet, including people of the same sex, for the simple reason that it is an innocent expression of the connection you BOTH feel.
In general, I’ve found that when you come from a place like that, people will actually love you more for it, as you’re sharing with them exactly what they want as well. Remember: A real connection is mutual. If you're not sure, it's probably not. I can also recall at least one connection that kinda got ruined because I didn’t get physical when we both knew I should.
How do you know if your physicality is just an expression of that connection? Because you don’t plan it first while staring at them from a dark corner. It just kinda happens and don’t stop yourself when you feel it.
As you start to tune into this, you'll become more and more aware that there's actually a lot of times when you felt like you wanted to hug/touch/kiss your friend or even someone you worked with outta nowhere, as an expression of gratitude for their existence, but didn't do it. Those are the moments I'm talking about. The more you start becoming aware of your feelings on this level, the more you realize they happen all the time and do not come from a place of neediness. I think these are the moments you should just allow yourself to do it.
But again, when in doubt: Just tell them up front that's what you're feeling. As a reader of one of my earliest post once commented (thank you for that!) : "Consent and social awareness are key. If the other person doesn't want to play ball, it is wrong to keep pushing them."
No matter how weary I am of misinterpretations, I still included this here, because believe this part is actually the most important and neglected area of human connections anno 2016, and one of the best ways to make someone feel like their existence really matters, since actions speak louder than words. Once you've rewired your brain from the twisted experience of physicality it has grown into over the years, your physicality start to do exactly what it's meant to do: Strengthen the connection and bond between two or more people.
Rule #5: Stop Taking People for Granted
As a final note. I think a lot of people who do really meaningful work on this planet are very underappreciated. I was recently joking around with someone about what would happen if the all the garbage men, prostitutes and cleaning ladies stopped working on the same day. We would all be confronted with the shocking nastiness of our own irresponsible, irrational behavior and the world would be in total chaos 😉
So next time you see those garbage men pass by, instead of complaining about the smell of their truck: realize that smells is yours and thank them for making this world a better place for all of us 😉
While the length of this post was already a lot to digest, I’m convinced this was just the start:
Any other suggestions to help us re-establish that important feeling of connection again in a time when we are growing further and further away from it, are more than welcome, so feel free to post them in the comments or let me know 😉
Time to let some people know how meaningful their existence is!
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