Tag Archives: Connection

A Quiet Dinner With Friends: My Fantasy Guest List

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

You know that old thought experiment where you come up with four or five people from history whom you would want to have over for a dinner party? Everyone seems to start with Jesus, and then it can go in a few different directions. Some people choose other respected people they are “supposed to” pick—Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the like—while other people add some evil to the mix with folks like Hitler or Charles Manson. Still others go with childhood heroes or sports legends like Neil Armstrong or Wilt Chamberlain.

In any case, it is usually a group of icons from other eras that end up gathered together around our hypothetical tables. In our attempt to gather the biggest names, this game usually involves little thought about how they would actually interact once they sat down. It is enough of a fantasy just to name the names. Thinking about it for a second, I would probably fill my guest list with Jesus, Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. I could go on and on, of course, as I love history and would be on the edge of my seat listening to folks like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Merriweather Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Sitting Bull, to name just a few.

Honestly, I get a little giddy just thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom I could soak up in a deep conversation with each of these individuals. I would love that! But really, I don’t have a clue how it would shake out to gather a handful of them together for a few hours over a meal. Not having much of a sense of their personalities, I am left unable to visualize the feel of the discourse. I mostly just think about wanting to talk to each individually.

So, I am changing the game! I want this dinner to suit my personality. A bigger group would work against my introversion and my desire for a genuine connection amongst the whole group. I would appreciate the intimacy more if there were only a few guests instead of, say, five (actually, I would prefer individual dinners with each person, but that’s not as fun for our game here). Let’s go with three plus me. I also want a pretty good sense of their personalities and confidence that they have social skills, because I want us to all enjoy the conversation and have things in common, like sports, a global awareness, and a desire to improve our world. With that, I am limiting it to people who are alive today and who I think would enjoy each other’s company, including me.

Okay, so: a few living humans who would make for a fun and fascinating evening of conversation. NOW it sounds like my kind of a dinner party!

I am starting with tennis champion Roger Federer. This guy just seems like a cool dude to me! For all of his athletic magnificence—he is widely considered the greatest player ever in his sport—he has a very charming class and grace about him (he has won the ATP’s Sportsmanship Award a record twelve times!). You always hear about how kind and thoughtful he is to everyone he comes into contact with. He and I both love the game of tennis and would therefore have an easy connection. Of course, he also hangs out with other international sports legends, which would no doubt provide for some scintillating stories. Another connection: he is also a Dad of young kids. I very much admire the enormous amount of charity work he does, including the millions of dollars that go to help disadvantaged children in Africa gain access to education. He just seems to be doing it all right. And he is grateful.  Roger, you are invited!

Next to Roger can sit Barack Obama. After this guy’s experiences of the last decade, I can hardly think of a more fascinating guest at my table. The stories he must have… But that is not the only reason to invite him. He seems like a genuinely cool guy to me, and grateful for his many blessings. I once saw a talk show segment with his wife, Michelle, as the guest, and the host asked what the most annoying thing about him was. She did an impression of him doing a slow, pause-filled explanation to his daughter of every aspect of some issue. It was hilarious, but it also points to what I would like about talking with him. He’s a thinker, and he seems to grasp that social issues are enormously complicated and can’t be fit into the little sound bites that our TV and Internet news outlets give us. Like my journal entries, I prefer my conversations to be a deep dive, so I would enjoy combing the intricacies of the world’s concerns with him. He also loves sports and has daughters a bit older than mine, so he could warn me and Roger of things to come.

Frankly, I am tempted to leave my little table at just the three of us—me, Roger, and Barack–as I have a hard time with who might make a comfortable fit (should we all be roughly similar in age?). Ideally, I could think of someone both worldly and philanthropic from the arts. However, I have been almost totally out of popular culture since I had kids, so I feel like I don’t know the personalities very well (though George Clooney, I think, would make any conversation enjoyable, and I would be interested to learn more about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels to study climate change; or perhaps Oliver Stone).

Dan Rather! Yes, the face and voice I have known since I was a kid would fill that last seat between me and Obama wonderfully! Though we were a Tom Brokaw/NBC family when I was growing up, I knew of Dan Rather and his storied career as a journalist. He was at Kennedy’s assassination and in Vietnam as a reporter, and obviously at all of the major global events as the anchor at CBS for a million years. So, he understands the world and our history. He left my radar until recent months, when I have been faithfully reading his commentary regarding politics and the necessity of tough, fair-minded journalism in our society. He is an incredibly thoughtful man, and he also seems very grateful for the voice and the platform he has been blessed with. And he seems like a fun guy to talk to, with such a wide-ranging experience, including being the parent of a daughter and a son, like me. I would like him at our table for his wisdom, his stories, and his heart.

What would I bring to the table? I hope that while being another voice sharing tales of travel and parenting, opinions on sports and global issues, and a passion for improvement with my comrades, I would also greet each guy’s unique perspective with intense curiosity and acceptance, as well as enough important questions and observations to connect us all together. That is what the evening is all about, after all: making a connection. Building a bond of humanity and common growth across a range of life experience. Oh yeah, and FUN! I think we would co-create some of that, too. This sounds like an enormously satisfying dinner to me!

How about you? What type of characters are making your guest list? Open up your journal and think about the kind of interaction you want to have with, and between, your special guests. What are your priorities? Do you just want to put three other amazing people in the room and see what happens, or do you want to pick and choose your commonalities and engineer it in a certain direction? If you have a theme or themes in mind, what are they? Do you want each character to have similar qualities, or do you think big differences would make it more interesting? How much would you like them to share things in common with you versus in common with each other? Would you prefer it to be all one gender, like my guy’s night? Do you imagine you will hold your own in the conversation and have good things to add? Would you approach this mentally more as a fan or as an equal? Okay, now write the list. Who is on there? Write about each one individually. Why do they make the list? What do they hold in common with the rest of the group? What unique perspectives can they bring? Which one do you expect to feel the closest bond with? Will one of you emerge naturally as the leader of your group? How serious will your conversation be? How much laughing will you do? What will you all take from the evening? Inspiration? Kinship? Empathy? A lighter heart? A greater sense of responsibility? Lifelong friendships? Even more to think about? Simple gratitude? It’s fun to think about! I am smiling as I write. I hope you will be, too. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is at your fantasy dinner table?  

Soar with the eagles,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed this exercise, please share it with friends. I wish you happiness!

A Bridge Between Generations: The Beauty of Connecting Human Life

IMG_1325“What we pass on moves forward to future generations. Never let anything important slip through the cracks.” –Elizabeth B. Knaus

Hello friend,

My parents stopped by this week and spent an evening at my house on their way back from a Winter in the warmth. We hadn’t seen them since Christmas, so my kids were absolutely thrilled when they heard their Nana and Pop would be coming the next day to spend the night. They jumped off the school bus that afternoon demanding, “Where are they? How come they aren’t here yet?” When my parents finally arrived, a light and energy came over my kids and stayed until they left the next morning. I noticed it immediately and watched it with great fascination. It was like watching someone in love: a different aura swirling about. It was beautiful to see. Interestingly, it seemed to flow from both sides. The light in my parents’ eyes while talking and playing with their grandkids was brilliant. There was a genuine glow of delight there that sticks in my mind even now.

We went out for dinner at a restaurant that was raising money for my kids’ school that night, and the entertainment in watching them interact was nonstop and priceless. The shine of mischief and amusement in my old man’s eyes as he teased my 5-year-old son about the girls from his kindergarten class at the next table was a sight I won’t soon forget. And of course, my gullible-yet-animated son kept going right along with the act. “What the HECK?!?!” “Are you serious, Pop?” “I DON’T have a girlfriend!!!” On and on. I didn’t say a word, just watched their comedy act and giggled along, so grateful that they could form this wonderful bond and rapport despite seeing each other only a few times a year (and Pop not necessarily being the easiest guy to get chummy with).

It struck me how different this relationship was compared to the ones my kids share with my Mom, their Nana. That one is a much more tender bond, built with time, intimacy, and the deep care that characterizes my Mother’s relationships with her kids and grandkids. She is the one who will talk on the phone or Facetime with them, the one who might snuggle up to read them a bedtime book, the one who patiently teaches them to play a song on the piano. She gets right down and plays with them at their level. Both my son and daughter adore her and have that close bond that she magically engenders in each one of her grandkids. She would do anything for them, and they deeply love her for it.

As I watched these amusing and sincere interactions between the four of them through the evening, I realized that I was doing just that: watching. I was simply a spectator for this fantastic connection that was happening. I was just the conduit, the agent that brings these beautiful people together to spin their magical relationships across generations.

Here were these two boys and two girls, one pair born in an era without televisions and the other in the age of a zillion screens, blending beautifully. Two worlds united. I cannot begin to describe the delight in my heart that I got to be a fly on the wall for that experience. Even better, though, was the realization that I am the lucky connection between the two. In the thousands of years of my family’s lineage, I drew the assignment of linking these two generations—these four special people–together. What great fortune!

In the days that have passed since this visit, I have been pondering this luck of mine, as well as this role of connecting generations and sharing one with another. When you think about it, it may be the most basic and essential task we have as human beings. Evolutionarily, we are here to keep the species going. We don’t do that simply by reproducing—that is the easy part—but by actually using the lessons learned by previous generations to make a good life for the next generation. Of course, it is a delicious bonus, as I experienced this week, to literally bring the generation before us and the generation after us together, and I think it is important to find ways to do that more frequently in this world where the older generations tend to be cast off and disregarded like last season’s iPhone.

But bringing children and grandparents together is not the only way to fill our evolutionary role as links in the human chain. You don’t need to be someone’s parent—or to still have parents yourselves—to do that. We connect the generations—and connect the world—just by sharing ourselves wholly, by being a participating member of the human race. Whenever you share yourself, you give your worldview and your wisdom gained from a life here on Earth, a life that was brought to you by the generations that came before you. As long as you are engaging, you cannot help but pass on what your ancestors gave you. That gift will be passed on to the next generation, either directly from you or indirectly via the people you share your world with.

Of course, I highly encourage you to hook up with a different generation—whether older or younger—and swap some knowledge and some love. From my experience, that is completely reinvigorating. I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to have spent so many years of my career working at least part of the time with children of many ages. In theory, you are supposed to teach them, but really they end up teaching you, and delightfully so. Now, with my own kids, I am more keenly aware of the importance of passing down age-old wisdom on the living of this life. And, because of my own fascination with storytelling and chronicling our lives, I find myself always trying to connect their experiences with stories of their ancestors, even if it is just tales of my youth with my siblings.

It really stirs my heart the most, though, when I can find someone from the older generations who will share their stories and their accumulated wisdom with me. Even better when I can hear those stories in the company of my children, achieving the multigenerational exchange instantaneously. I have a very special uncle who is so wonderful about doing that when I bring my children by for our annual visit. Whenever we leave his house, I feel as though something beautiful and important has been passed down.

As part of my soul’s code, I have this unquenchable thirst to learn all that I am “supposed to” learn about the best, most authentic way to live this life. I need those previous generations for that. The other aspect of my soul’s code, though, is the unquenchable thirst to share all that I know about living your best, most authentic life with others. And whether it goes to them directly from me or from the other people I connect with—You, for example—I need the next generation to fulfill my mission.

So you see, it is hardwired in me—maybe in all of us—to link up with people from different eras. It is in my code to connect, both by learning and by teaching. It seems to be the only way that I can find fulfillment on this journey. And sometimes, like this week when my parents came to play with my kids, I get to witness magic happening. The old, the young, and me—we were all just One. Our little section of the chain was connected, and with it, I felt connected. It all just felt so right. Whenever I get that feeling, I think it is the Universe’s way of letting me know that I am on the right track. I find it telling that I often get that feeling when my family is all gathered together in multiple generations, and also when I am teaching. It seems that when I allow myself to be a part of this grand and beautiful chain that connects and transcends across time, all is right in my world.

How about you? What is your connection to the older and younger generations? Open up your journal and explore the ways that you connect the chain. Do you have more contact with people who are of the previous generation or the next generation? Is that by choice or by chance? Which generation do you prefer to spend time with? When you are with people of different generations, do you consciously seek out opportunities to either learn or teach? Which are you more comfortable with? Do you feel any sort of obligation to learn your family history in order to share it with future generations? Whether or not you have your own children or even want to have kids in the future, what level of pressure have you felt to have them in order to keep your family’s heritage going? Is that pressure from society, your family, or yourself? In a society that increasingly disregards the past—whether it is last year’s technology or the generation that invented it—how would you rate yourself on how well you value the people who paved your path? How do you show that evaluation? In what areas of your life could you seek out more and deeper connections with either the older or the younger generations? Is that a priority for you? Who are your role models? For whom are you a role model? How seriously do take that role? Do you feel a special kind of joy—like I do—when you connect your favorites from the different generations? Leave me a reply and let me know: What role do you play in linking the past with the future?

Be your best today,

William

P.S. If this made you take a new or different look at your role in the greater human experience, pass it on. Let’s celebrate our interconnectedness!

Using Facebook As Match.com For Friendships: Searching for Real Human Interaction in the Digital Age

DSC_0518“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.–A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh  

Hello friend,

I have a new fantasy woman in my life. She’s super smart, creative, and funny. The way she strings her words together makes my mind light up and my face smile. She comes from a wonderful family and puts great value there, just like I do. Oh, and did I mention that she is also totally beautiful? I can comfortably say she is out of my league. But what the heck, I am going for it! She has all the makings of a true gem, a diamond in the rough. Women like this don’t come along every day. I must stick my neck out and risk the rejection. I have to take the chance!

Sure, I am happily married. So why is this woman living in my head and making me excited to reach out and talk to her? What do I want from her? The answer is simple: Friendship. I want her to be my friend. Well, more precisely, I want to find out if she could be a true friend. I want to connect with her—actually speak to her, even if on the phone—and see if she is actually as cool and deep and inspiring as she seems to be from our few brief online exchanges and a long history as childhood acquaintances. I feel like I have a good sense of her, but I realize that you never really know from a few emails or Facebook comments. Maybe we take that skeleton and fill in all of the rest of the heart and soul and guts with our own minds, romanticizing (or demonizing) the people we have these familiar-yet-distant online relationships with, making them into whomever we want or need them to be. I am aware of that very real possibility in this case, and that is why I am determined to find out.

It requires a social risk, though. In this digital age, we are all used to having relationships that are very friendly but that are also at arms’ length. Facebook, Instagram, and the like have allowed us to connect with new people and reconnect with our old classmates and co-workers. We like and comment on each other’s posts and, in the process, we build and/or keep good feelings toward one another. It’s a great deal. I love it!

As a relative newbie to social media—I’ve been on Facebook for a year-and-a-half and just opened an Instagram account but have no idea what to do with it—I have been amazed at how much I have enjoyed learning what my old elementary and high school classmates are doing. Because I am a terrible friend and haven’t kept up well with anyone from any phase of my life, I was very skeptical about Facebook going into it. I couldn’t imagine why someone would send me a Friend Request if we aren’t actual, current friends, and entering into these relationships seemed really awkward to me, even phony. I was completely out of my water. Much to my surprise, however, it turns out that I LOVE reading about my old schoolmates and seeing their photos. It has helped me to stay better connected to the few people who I still considered to be my friends—even if we had neglected each other for too long—and it has given me a new window into the lives of people I didn’t know well enough, some of whom I still had very fond impressions of.

That brings me to the people like my new fantasy woman. I wrote to you a while back about “The Facebook ‘Friends’ You Wish Were Your Real Friends,” mentioning a handful of people from my (mostly distant) past—some of whom I did not know very well even when I “knew” them–whose Facebook posts I love and who seem like the kind of people I would love to gather in the same room with to see if we might save the world together. Just like the title of that post says, I wish they were my real friends. Well, at least I wish my ideas of them were my real friends. This is where I think social media can be at its finest. Perhaps this thing called Facebook—or Twitter or Instagram or whatever else I know nothing about—is like a global friendship screening system. We can become “friends” with hundreds of people on there, and hopefully from those hundreds we find a special few who make it onto to our wish list.

The question is: What do you do about these people? Do you keep them at the necessary arms’ length distance of a social media relationship, enjoying their posts and occasionally sharing a good-hearted comment exchange, maybe even a private message? OR, do you take a social risk and ask to meet up with one of them—either in person or on the phone—to just talk. You know, the way humans used to do it.

We are increasingly and rapidly losing our social skills in this digital age, which makes it feel awkward and dangerous to make that step of inviting an actual engagement with another person, a real conversation. But that also makes it so much more important that we make this connection. We need more genuine human interaction. Conversations from the heart. Diving deep into another’s life story. A look at the world through their eyes, walking that proverbial mile in their shoes.

I know I need it. I lack that connection in my life. I am cut off. I usually write it off to my introversion, hiding behind my insecurity and my love of solitude to justify why I don’t open up or reach out. Historically, I have tended to see myself as the oddball, though, the only one who stands alone. Lately, however, I have been seeing it—and feeling it—in others all around me, wherever adults happen to gather. I watch the parents on the soccer sidelines and at the bus stop. I am not the only one who shies away. It feels distant and awkward between almost everyone. It’s like we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. It is a great disconnect.

This great disconnect–whether it is spreading like a virus for the modern age or I am just noticing it more–is precisely why I believe in not just making that “Turning a ‘Friend’ into a FRIEND” list but also in doing something about it. Suggesting a meeting or a phone conversation. Actually finding out if you have a fantasy figure created mostly in your head—as I do—or a potential dear friend for life. That is what I decided to do this week. My fantasy woman and I exchanged a couple of messages on a topic, and I was so enthralled with her ideas that I asked her if we could set up a phone call so I could hear more of her thoughts and her life story. I felt weird asking it. After all, in the arms’ length world, each of us has some romantic image of a soulful, creative genius on the other end of the screen. Maybe finally speaking will burst both of our bubbles. Maybe it will just be great catching up but left as a one-shot deal.

But maybe not. Maybe we are destined to teach each other great lessons or collaborate on a world-changing project. Maybe we will be the best of friends. Whatever it is, the social risk seems worth it. A true human connection is something you can’t put a price on. If it happens, I just won the jackpot. If it doesn’t, well, it’s just another day without it. We haven’t had the call yet, but I assure you that the excitement I feel in anticipation is well worth any letdown I will feel if it doesn’t work out. I am that hungry for a connection of my soul.

How about you? How hungry are you for a deep friendship? Open up your journal and think about your online relationships. Which ‘friends’ would you like to make your true friends? What is it about them that resonates with you? What draws you in? Do you have a little dialogue going with them already, whether through comments on each other’s posts or private messages? How much of a social risk would it be for you to propose a meeting or phone conversation to get to know each other better? What do you think they would say? What do you have to gain from reaching out? I understand the other side is the pain of rejection, but answer me this: what do you have to gain from doing nothing? Which gain is more valuable to you: a true, deep friendship or a more superficial but always positive online relationship? How authentic do you think most people’s social media personas are? Do you think you have an accurate read on your friend list from their posts and comments? Is it possible to have a deep relationship with someone online only? Have you ever pursued a relationship because of social media content? Do you have that one fantasy friend who you are just sure that you are meant to be besties with? What keeps you from making that connection happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is your social media fantasy, and what are you going to do about it? 

Love is worth a risk,

William

P.S. If this speaks to you, please share.  You never know who it might connect you with!