About the Revolution
In Inside Out: How to have Authentic Relationships with everyone in your life (which is also known as Authentic: Relationships from the inside out) I set out a revolutionary vision for how I believe we can all lead authentic lives. I offer everyone the final chapter below in order to inspire, motivate and encourage.
Join the Revolution!
Epilogue: The naked hedgehog
A nation that fails to learn the lessons of history is destined to repeat it.
You must be the change you want to see in the world.
To build bridging social capital requires that we transcend our social and political and professional identities to connect with people unlike ourselves.
Robert D, Putnam, Bowling Alone
I was talking to a great friend of mine the other day (I’ll call her Katherine to spare her blushes). She is an 84-year-old widow who lives on her own. That could be a recipe for loneliness and isolation, but not for Katherine. She has two supportive sons, a great daughter in-law, two lovely grandchildren and more good friends than many people half her age. She has friends of all ages and is interested and involved in their lives. She is an active member of her local church and walks the two miles there and back most days to go and volunteer (despite the pain she experiences in her legs). She goes to ‘keep fit’ class once a week and loves learning – whether it is how to use her computer, keeping up with the news or reading her Bible. And her strong faith gives her a reason to embrace and not fear the thought of death.
But life isn’t like that for many people of Katherine’s age. There are plenty of elderly people in our society who live alone, with only their TV for company. Too frightened to go out, they stay shut away in the prison of their own home. They may not see a friend or family member for weeks on end. Days and days may pass without them feeling the touch of another human or hearing the voice of a loved one. Some may not have family living nearby and others may have no family at all. There is no one else to whom they can give attention and reach out to. They are left with nothing to focus on other than their own thoughts and fears.
It is depressing to think that there are people living like that in our society. More depressing still is to think what life will be like for the elderly in forty or fifty years time if we carry on as we are now. The institutions, connections and social networks which were once taken for granted – religious or political affiliation; membership of trade unions, clubs or teams; support for charities and voluntary organisations; and community involvement – have all dramatically weakened over the last few decades and continue to do so. Greater social mobility means that more people are moving away from their original neighbourhood, family and friends. Those who move to cities often find themselves living next door to people whose names they never know. Grandchildren and close family may live miles away or even in another country. With increasing family breakdown, more and more people will find themselves estranged from family members and living on their own. With jobs for life a rarity, and as freelance, home-working and shift work become more prevalent, work connections will also become weaker.
In many ways developments in technology will continue to help keep us connected. But unless Facebook friends (or whatever the equivalent will be in forty years’ time) are also friends in the flesh and live nearby they will be little actual use when we are crave intimacy or feel lonely, ill or frail.
So, how can we create a different vision for the future of our society? A society where people are not increasingly disconnected but are living interdependently with each other, supporting, caring and watching out for each other?
Authentic loving – changing our society one relationship at a time
During the current economic downturn there seems to have been a growing realisation that we can’t find guaranteed security in our possessions, home, money or jobs. Or, if we have tried, we may have discovered that none of those can deliver the safety we crave. Financial struggle has forced many of us to reconsider our priorities and rediscover the importance of authentic relationships and social capital or community.
In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam examines the decline of social capital in America over the last few decades of the twentieth century. Writing before 9/11, the last Iraq war and the current recession, he said:
Creating (or re-creating) social capital is no simple task. It would be eased by a palpable national crisis, like war or depression or natural disaster, but for better and for worse, America at the dawn of the new century faces no such galvanizing crisis. The ebbing of community over the last several decades has been silent and deceptive. We notice its effects in the strained interstices of our private lives and in the degradation of our public life, but the most serious consequences are reminiscent of the old parlour puzzle: ‘what’s missing from this picture?’ Weakened social capital is manifest in the things that have vanished almost unnoticed – neighbourhood parties and get-togethers with friends, the unreflective kindness of strangers, the shared pursuit of the public good rather than a solitary quest for private goods. Naming this problem is an essential first step toward confronting it, just as labelling ‘the environment’ allowed Americans to hear the silent spring…
He could not see them coming at the time but disasters did strike America and also many other countries around the world. Many of us are now beginning to understand more about what is important. We are seeing that the greatest investment we can make is in social capital. If we invest in our families, our friends, our neighbourhood and our communities we are more likely to see a greater return from our time, effort and money than if we make the same investment in the property market or gamble it on the stock market. And the exciting thing is that the more we are able to do that the more likely we are to create a future for ourselves and our society where people become more connected and less isolated.
Over the chapters of this book we’ve looked at some of the ways in which we can invest in those relationships and become more authentic in how we relate to others. We no longer have to be like the hedgehog that either hides from relationships or hurts people as it gets too close. We can learn to be more real in our connections – allowing others to know and see us and allowing them to be known and seen by us. Instead of being so independent we can become healthily interdependent – reaching out to care, support, love and share life with others. Dr Sue Johnson, in Hold Me Tight, writes:
…our culture encourages us to compete rather than connect. Even though we are programmed by millions of years of evolution to relentlessly seek out belonging and intimate connection, we persist in defining healthy people as those who do not need others. This is especially dangerous at a time when our sense of community is daily being eroded by an endless preoccupation with getting more done in less time and filling our lives with more and more goods.
We can hope that those with power in our society wake up and realise the need to invest in social capital and lead by example. We can hope that they will implement policies: that support rather than erode the strength of families; that encourage strong neighbourhoods and communities; that reward social investment as much as, or more than, capital investment; that enable children to grow up in loving environments where they learn how to relate and to think of others; that help single parents, the orphaned, the widowed and the marginalised to find support and strong connections; and that promote marriage and help couples build lifelong committed relationships.
We can hope that they realise the importance of any or all of those things, but even if they don’t or won’t we can still help to turn the tide ourselves. We can do that:
- when we stop, listen and help a friend in trouble
- when we make the effort to get to know our neighbour
- when we seek to rebuild or heal a difficult relationship
- when we make time to laugh and celebrate with someone
- when we give our time and our attention to those we love
- when we put down our defences and risk being known
- when we allow others to share their secrets or fears with us
- when we reach out and help a stranger
- when we refuse to allow control, selfishness or un-forgiveness to ruin our relationships
- when we offer our hospitality, share our resources and open our homes to others
- when we are quick to admit blame and apologise
- when we become a person who keeps our word
- when we lead with integrity
- when we help the hopeless to find hope again
- when we seek to understand and appreciate differences
- when we care for our marriage and support others’ relationships
- when we model healthy relating to our children
- when we become involved in our community
- when we look for and pick up the golden threads
- when we do any of the things we have discussed in this book
When we do any of these things, we will make a difference to the people and the world around us.
Think of it as the ‘naked hedgehog’ revolution. You and I can take steps today to make the future a better place if we are willing to take off our prickles, get close, get real and get connected.
It isn’t too late. You and I can be authentic – from the inside out.
And together we can change our society one relationship at a time. We really can.
Viva la revolution!