I drove 8 hours to Long Island last week to gather with a group of people of a certain age that I haven’t seen for decades. Yes, it was my high school reunion.
To say I had a great time doesn’t cover it. It was a warm, wonderful, grin-inducing affair. I can’t express how happy I am to have made the journey.
But, why? Why did I so much enjoy spending time with people who are essentially strangers?
In a TED talk that’s been viewed more than 30 million times (The Power of Vulnerability), Sociologist Brené Brown tells us that human beings – all human beings – crave connection with one another. We only achieve connection when we have the “courage to be imperfect,” she says. We must be “willing to let go of who [we] think we should be in order to be who [we are].” That’s why we trek many miles to reunions – of families, high school classes or military units — so we can connect with those who knew us before we started covering our tracks.
Great leaders understand the power of connection. They connect their followers to one another by attracting them to a common cause. In another often-viewed TED talk, Simon Sinek describes the way great leaders, from Apple founder Steve Jobs to Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Wright Brothers, connected their followers to their purpose. “It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it,” Sinek tells us. “If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”
The phenomenon carries over to our willingness to serve in the military and to give our money and time to political parties and charitable organizations. We consistently make personal sacrifices for the chance to be part of something larger than ourselves – to be connected to others who believe what we believe.
The threat of lost connection is what scares us about the advancement of artificial intelligence. IBM’s Watson can do a better job than our human doctors analyzing not only our symptoms but also our emotional state based upon an analysis of our facial expression, our tone of voice, and a plethora of biometric data. Yet, we are unwilling to give up our connection to the flawed human being who looks us in the eye and reports our medical condition.
The crown jewel of my connected weekend was delivered by my cousin Joanne. She had just returned from a trip to Sicily where she visited the addresses of each of our common grandparents. She arrived at a gathering of Calia cousins with a gift for each of us. It was a small apothecary jar containing sand from the beach that fronted my grandmother’s childhood home and some stucco from my grandfather’s. Each was labeled with the names of the two towns in which those residences still stand. The monetary investment in this gift was no more than a few bucks. However, the investment of her time and her caring for each of us who share some DNA delighted us all, as evidenced by the animated response, the laughter, and the tears.
In a modern world that endeavors to connect us via silicon chips, it was the ultimate…