17th Century philosopher John Donne famously wrote:
‘No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less . . .
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.’
Although every man (and woman) appears at first glance to be separate and alone, we are not alone. We are ‘part of the main’ (the ‘main’ being ‘humanity’.)
As explained elsewhere, we evolved an innate need to feel connected, because that keeps us in the tribe where we are more likely to survive long enough to pass on our genes. We can feel connected when we, for example, have a strong network of friends and family, or when we are a member of a gang, tribe, or team. The trouble is, the people who aren’t a member of that gang or network may be excluded, which means: disconnection. So, although those ways are good ways to feel connected, they’re not the best way. The best way is to feel connected with humanity. We need to fully accept, on an emotional level, that we aren’t islands, that we are all part of the main. One good way to feel that way is to fully believe that:
‘We are all in this together, in this stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.’
‘I am better than no one, and no one is better than me’.
Unknown, and discussed in a previous chapter.
However, if you don’t already fully believe those two sentiments, I won’t be changing your mind. But there is one practical step we can take to feel connected with humanity: we can learn to have quality conversations with the people we know and meet.
If you think you could improve your conversational skills, practise the tips in the following two chapters. Practise with a friend. Then with colleagues. Then with your enemies. One day you will find your conversations with people flowing.
‘. . . Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?’
High school teacher, Paul Barnwell, from Celeste Headlee’s TED talk, ‘10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation.’