In a recent study of 20,000 adults in the U.S. 46% said that they sometimes or always felt alone, 43% felt like their relationships were not meaningful, 20% said they rarely felt close to others, and out of the young adults surveyed, 40% said they experienced significant loneliness.
In a period of time when we are more connected than ever, we are left with people feeling more alone and isolated than ever before. We spend hours everyday online scrolling through social media, sending text messages or emails, working from home, attending online events. Due to the recent pandemic we’ve learned to stand six feet apart, to put a mask on and not speak to those around us. But what does that leave us with?
It’s left us with a lot of people who have forgotten how to encounter others and have gone way too long without having a meaningful conversation.
I remember one night during my senior year of college, I had a bunch of friends over for dinner and one of them decided to bring a guy he had just met a few weeks before. When they arrived, this guy was quiet, reserved, and kind of stood off to the side. Seeing this, a friend and I walked over to him to introduce ourselves and started asking him questions about his life. We ended up finding out that he had moved to our college a while ago but because of the pandemic, he hadn’t had a chance to meet a lot of people.
Throughout the night, as we got to know him better and listened to his stories, we watched as this once quiet, reserved person became the life of the party. He told us about his goals, life back home, his family, how his adjustment to life in college was going. We got to sit back and just watch the joy come across his face and eyes light up as he talked about the things he loved. At the end of the night he came up to me with a tear in his eye, gave me a hug and thanked me for hosting that dinner. Because for the first time, in a very long time, he felt known and seen.
When we hear about the state of our culture, the immense amount of loneliness and isolation that exists, it can be scary and upsetting. It can seem we’re too far gone. Where do we even begin? What difference could I possibly make to change our culture? Although it’s a big battle, the solution is a lot simpler than we think. It starts with each person going back to the basics and learning how to have a good conversation. The reality is, someone can’t know what love is if they don’t know the sound of their own name. They can’t know what love is tf they don’t know their story is worth being told and that they are worth being remembered.
So how do we have good, life-giving conversations with those around us?
NUMBER 1: ASK QUESTIONS
It’s been proven that asking questions actually builds the intimacy between two people and leads to a positive emotional increase. So take curiosity in the person you’re speaking to. Find out what makes them get up in the morning, what can they talk about for hours, who do they love? There’s no dumb question. We can miss out on so many good stories or advice in life because we never stop to ask the person in front of us.
NUMBER 2: SHIFT YOUR INTENTIONS
Our intentions have the power to shift the entire outcome of conversation, no matter what was said. When we enter into a conversation with another person, we have to ask ourselves, do I actually care what they have to say? If we come into a conversation from a place of love, with a desire to truly know the person we’re looking at, that conversation will flow naturally and bear fruit because in that moment the person knows they are safe and wanted. But if we come in from a position of use or fear, a place where we just want something out of them, or we’re more concerned with how we come across than what they’re saying, or we simply don’t care, that conversation won’t go anywhere. If you find yourself struggling to care what others have to say, get to the root of why? Ask yourself, have I become too self focused. Do I think that I’m the only one whose story matters? This may seem harsh but the reality is we can get trapped up in ourselves and miss the opportunity of encountering the people around us. We have to go outside of ourselves and recognize that other people have stories and are worthy of being known.
NUMBER 3: LISTEN
Listen to what the person has to say. Stop day dreaming or thinking of your to do list. Don’t worry about what your follow-up question will be. It’s okay if there’s a little silence during your process or think what to ask next. Simply stop and allow yourself to listen. When we stop, and give a person our full attention, we are allowing them to be fully received and heard.
NUMBER 4: BE BOLD AND SEEK PEOPLE OUT
How often do we find ourselves in a room full of people, yet few people are actually there. Sometimes I think we can get trapped in our heads. We don’t talk to people out of fear of being judged, or it being awkward, or not knowing what to say. So, we stick to the corner of the room, look down, pull out our phones and don’t talk to anyone. But the reality is, those other people standing by themselves are more fearful than you, and they are probably waiting and desperately desiring someone to step outside of themselves and say hello. Just like you, they’re in need of a good conversation. So go to those events by yourself, introduce yourself to the person in line with you, talk to that person who always sits next to you in class. Be bold. I promise the person on the other side is going to be grateful you did.
Our culture is hurting us because we were made to be known and to be in relationships with one another, but we’ve stopped saying hello. When we stop to ask someone their name, to take an interest in their stories, to listen to what they have to say, we are reminding that person of their beauty, dignity and humanity. It is through these good conversations, that we can form those life-giving relationships we were created for. We have to be bold and step out ourselves, and learn how to have good conversations, because it is through talking to others that we can change our culture.