As poet John Donne put it “No man is an island”,
No one can live life just by themselves. In order to develop emotionally, physically and mentally, connecting with others plays a central part. We sometimes think we may fare better alone and I do appreciate the importance of silence and alone time, but overall relationships and making connections are critical.
Scientist Matthew Lieberman, in his recent book “Social“, says that our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. He argues that our drive to connect socially is “powerful” and I think deep down we all know this to be true. Perhaps we like to think we don’t mind what others think about us, but how easy and comfortable are we with isolation and loneliness even for a short time?
Studies of mammals have found that we are strongly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer strongly when our social relationships are threatened or severed. This can lead to long term health and learning challenges especially for children, indicating that our overall health and well-being depend on our connection with others.
With this in mind, I was very impressed recently by Carlow Mental Health Association, a voluntary organisation promoting positive mental health, why have a new initiative called Hello Carlow, How R U? on Thursday May 28.
The aim of the day was to invite people to ask someone in their life the simple question “How are you?“, nurturing connections within families, the workplace, shops and all walks of life.
CMHA distributed catchy ‘conversation cards’ around Carlow town, with a step by step guide in connecting, using the letters from the word HELLO.
The cards also documented a list of the local and national support services.
I loved this initiative. It was very well received by young and old alike and an information stand was very busy all day. We were reminded how often we quickly reply ‘fine‘ or ‘grand’ to the question “how are you?” This day made us all stop and really listen to the question and its answers. And then we listened some more, engaging with the person totally, making a genuine connection.
Now there is no reason that the good folk of Carlow should have all the conversation fun.
Those in the mental health associations around the counties who have tried often against the odds to promote positive mental health are seeking to open up new conversations.
Many times there can be a risk involved in saying “how are you?”, after all we may not want to hear the response. Sometimes we are just happy to hear “fine” and then move on.
Not this time, each county is being invited to ask genuinely “how r u?”. Listening is the key, they say we get one mouth and two ears and we need to use them in that proportion. When you listen you open opportunities for new beginnings, new pathways for increased connection and emotional health. What would that feel like?
As I started the article with a quote from the middle-ages its apt to finish with a quote from modern times answering that question. I think it would be “awesome”.
So go on, start a conversation by asking someone the simple question “how are you?” and really listen to the reply.
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