According to Dalai Lama, connecting with others is a source of happiness (The Art of Happiness). However, practising how to connect with others in an unfriendly environment may turn out to be very difficult, sometimes we may be tempted to give up. When we become parents, it is very important how we behave with others. Our children are there watching and they’ll remember when they become adults.
Connecting with others in a foreign culture
For me, the need to connect with others is like the need to breathe air. Maybe I wouldn’t have realised this, if I hadn’t moved to another country. After years of introducing myself to others as a foreigner, I have understood the importance of connecting with others to my lasting happiness. The problem is that the local culture is not encouraging the small talk. I have felt like a Don Quijote of modern times when communicating with others. Day by day, my small world was built on the foundations laid by the interaction with the few work colleagues and the few friends.
I sank into emotional distance. I was weeping in my loneliness as a foreigner surrounded by locals who are fond of silence and personal independence. I became faithful participant to the gym with the hope that I would stumble upon some friendly others. In vain! Years passed by, and I felt emotionally handicapped. The friends that I saw once a months were not enough to satisfy the thirst of human intimacy and closeness.
Connecting with other mothers is important but equally hard as with the rest
Having a family in the new country gave meaning to life. It saved my emotional life. For a while, I was so in love that nothing mattered. Alas, one day when I was walking with my baby, I realised that the family does not replace the basic human need to be able to connect with others. Becoming a stay-at-home mother makes things worse.The social interactions are limited. The emotional distance that I felt before becomes even bigger.
Visiting the playground became the daily challenge to reach out to the other mothers. Unlike me, they seem to be self-sufficient in their small world. No eye to eye contact, not a polite smile.
My baby smiles and comes closer to other babies. He is puzzled by the lack of response and he looks back at me. I shrug my shoulders, “What can I tell him?”. After few seconds, he approaches again other babies. Again and again, until he finds one baby that reciprocates and they start playing.
When the inspiration stroke
One day, I decided to imitate my baby’s behaviour. I initiated the small talk. I started talking to other mothers at the playground. I pretended I don’t see their reluctance to talk and smiled back. Deep inside, I was infuriated. I considered buying plane tickets and fly us far away from the country. In that moment of fury, Dalai Lama’s wisdom seemed but an utopia.
Why bother to reach out when you seem to be the only one doing it?
Connecting with others means tapping into our compassion and building the strong foundation which makes us human:
“And once you encourage the thought of compassion in your mind, once that thought becomes active, then your attitude towards others changes automatically. If you approach others with the thought of compassion, that will automatically reduce fear and allow an openness with other people. It creates a positive, friendly atmosphere…And with that attitude, even if other person is unfriendly or doesn’t respond to you in a positive way, then at least you’ve approached the person with a feeling of openness that gives you a certain flexibility and the freedom to change your approach as needed.” (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness)
To my mind, connecting with others is not only about being open or any other fear. It is also about knowing how to deal when you offer a part of you to someone who does not appreciate it. Here it is the point where we need to learn how to cultivate compassion and stay calm when confronted with unfriendly behaviours.
It’s worth to keep on fighting for connecting with others, despite their coldness and indifference. There are days that bring wonderful surprises. Some of the others reciprocate with friendliness and they share stories from their lives. I smile and I feel warmth. I feel human and energised.
When we become parents, we embrace the responsibility to be a role model for our children. Those of us who live in multicultural contexts, we want to show to our children that despite the multiculturalism where we may not always understand others, we can choose to relate to others as human beings, and not as national identities.
We want to expose our children to multicultural interactions. If others turn their back on us, we can explain to our children that it is OK to be sad.
It is not OK to become the centre of our sadness. Instead, we can try to relate to the unfriendly others at a human level, thinking that “She must have a bad day!”. Maybe tomorrow will bless us with a positive interaction.
The important lesson is to keep on practising our attitude to others on both occasions: when treated with friendliness and when treated with unfriendliness. It is a painful work, but it is one of the tickets to our lasting happiness! And an excellent example to our children!