Last month, I signed up for a memoir writing workshop. It was a 16-person strong group from across the country and my first experience of its sort. I was expecting writing tips and discussions on form and style. What unfolded was something I was unprepared for. “Tell us something about yourself that you wouldn’t usually if you met someone socially,” said Natasha Badhwar, the workshop facilitator. What emerged were stories of love and loss that have shaped life journeys, of fragile bodies and the pressures of trying to live up to expectations. In the weeks that followed, through an exchange of personal writing, I found myself forming connections with complete strangers and revealing aspects of self with an openness I often miss in my own social circle. There was a softening of body and in how I was being present in the world.
A few weeks on, I find myself looking at what brought this sense of closeness. In the detail of personal writing and the larger themes they spoke to, there was resonance with the life experiences of people I had never met and who inhabited worlds very different from my own. By making room to be vulnerable, there were connections formed despite varied lived realities.
In her seminal work on vulnerability, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes, ‘Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.’ With each passing day, there is more evidence of suffering. It’s visible in images of school and college students in Karnataka standing against those who were friends just days ago, in the economic boycott of minority communities in temple fairs, and embedded in undertones of ‘they are not like us’ and everything that follows as a consequence of othering.
Brown writes, ‘The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.’ I am reminded of an experiment in connection (developed by psychologist Arthur Aron in 1997) applied to the refugee crisis in Europe. In the video, Look Beyond Borders, refugees from Syria and Somalia sat opposite people from Belgium, Italy, Germany, Poland and the UK and looked each other in the eye. What followed was a breaking of boundaries to connect as humans. A softening that allowed for room to be witness to another’s aloneness and pain – from 4 minutes of looking each other in the eye.
As you set out in the days and weeks to come, we hope you will practice acts of care and connection—that you will stop to look at someone you may not have looked at before. Someone who works in your building, or travels on the train in the seat next to you, who might dress or look different from you. Someone whom you might never have had a conversation with.
We’d love to hear your stories of connection too, so do write in to us and tell us what enabled a sense of connection and belonging for you.