Illustration: Gerd Altman. Source: Pixabay. CC0
We’re a networking species. There’s a part of our brains that’s devoted to making connections with other people. All mammals have this lobe, the “limbic lobe.” It supports long-term memory, emotions, motivation, and our sense of smell. The structure of our limbic system may be one reason why some scented candles can have a soothing effect. But the most important effect of our limbic system is how it facilitates social interactions. A recent experiment with rhesus monkeys found that baby monkeys spent 17 hours per day cuddling with a soft cloth mother figure that did not provide milk, compared with only one hour per day with a wire mother figure that actually does provide milk.
It’s connections that keep us healthy and happy. Long-term studies show that people who are more socially connected to family and friends and their communities are happier, healthier, live longer, and their brains function better. By contrast, isolation and loneliness are toxic.
Our limbic system is one of the reasons that digital social networking has been so successful. As broadband internet connections became widespread, there were a number of web sites that tried to help people make online connections: Myspace, Friendster, Orkut, and eventually, Facebook. Facebook managed its growth better than the rest, and eventually figured out how to make money with its growing user-base, using those funds to enhance what it can offer.
Understanding and following relationship networks is one of the reasons people enjoy the series “Game of Thrones.” For season after season, the great families maneuvered to rule the realm, or at least to avoid misrule. It’s the relationships within and between these families that’s the most intriguing aspect of this show. It’s why Shakespeare’s plays continue to be so popular. His characters all have real relationships that look and feel similar to our own predicaments. Even a wizard on a deserted island needed to have his daughter (and a servant) with him. When she realizes that the world has so many more people, she calls it a “brave new world.”
The best way to make connections is to listen, to hear what our friends are saying and understand their needs. This doesn’t mean saying “I understand” over and over. In fact, that phrase can be a red flag indicating the listener actually doesn’t understand. Rather, it means demonstrating that we recognize and appreciate where our friends are coming from: reflecting back what they say, looking for appropriate analogies, restating their point-of-view more clearly than they might have put it. Then changing how we act, if that’s appropriate. Connecting and listening are intimately related.
Everyone wants to be understood. By making connections – virtual and real – we build trust and create value where nothing existed before. It’s those connections that nurture us and help us grow. The opposite – living isolated, lonely lives – can turn us into fire-breathing dragons.
Illustration: Mohammed Hasan. Source: Pxhere. CC0
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
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