Once when I was in the sixth grade, I asked my sister to make sandwiches for my school picnic. A string of events occurred, and she declared I was selfish. I used to often realize that I was more interested in getting my work done, rather than the feelings and engagements of other people.
The realization that I was a bad person and that people knew about it was suffocating. I understood that I would be left alone if I did not change.
I consciously tried to become a better person by caring for other people and showing that I cared.
Why relationships are important?
Imagine, you go to office, work at your desk with your back hunched, go to the coffee machine, come back without talking to anyone in the pantry. Repeat. Attend meetings without any jokes or see you later at lunch with any colleague. Repeat. Lunch alone hidden in one corner of the cafeteria because you don’t want to meet anyone’s eyes. Repeat. Drive back home or in a cab, reach home, be with your family or alone.
Wouldn’t you get bored? I got bored writing that routine. Wouldn’t you miss conversations? Wouldn’t you need help? Wouldn’t you feel like having lunch or drinking a chai with someone? Wouldn’t you want to crack a horrible joke?
I have not found even one person recently who would want to live such a life. Where are these people who don’t need company?
Humans like to personalize everything. It makes life simpler. Mutual sharing is in our DNA and we miss it. Keith Ferrazzi said in his book Who’s Got Your Back, “A person is a person through other persons”.
Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, ted-talked about the observations from the longest study on happiness — 80 years — conducted on 800 men. Guess what keeps us happy? Wealth, fame or a successful career? You are wrong.
The study suggested that more socially connected people are happier, healthier, and they live longer. Men who leaned into relationships with family, friends, and community were happier than the more popular, wealthier, and successful men.
Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist, delivered a Ted talk about the secrets to living a longer life which was based on a study of the Italian Island of Sardinia, where there are 10 times more centenarians than North America. She said that those people were always surrounded by family, friends, grocery sellers, neighbors, priests, bar tenders, and more. The study observed that women live longer because they groom more face to face social relationships — which creates a biological force field against diseases. She cited the example of female baboons who have a core of female friends and show less stress and longer life.
With my close people, I can share my goals, fears, successes, and dreams. A friend’s company or help to edit my WordPress blog is always a call away. They encourage me and give me perspective. They tell me the truth when it is needed to be told.
Were all my plans and ideas always right? No. But I needed support while I walked the path, only to realize that I was wrong.
Sometimes when I am alone, I sulk. I feel ugly and fat. I doubt my work strategies and wonder if my dreams would ever come true. Maybe my parents were right about taking a corporate job or that I should have married.
Then, a friend, who has been out of touch for long, messages to say that he has been following me and respects me. A traveling friend calls me on a Sunday evening when I am on my own. An acquaintance invites me to stay over when I post on Facebook that I am landing into a city and have no place to stay. A soon to be ex-director messages me to say that he would miss me.
A junior from University calls for some travel advice. An ex-colleague shares a post on social media about how my article helped her. A long lost school friend messages to catch-up. I glance at a t-shirt where in an English summer camp volunteer wrote that I was the friendliest person she had ever met.
These people are not only responding to my writing but to the connections we shared; picking me up on my lowest days.
We don’t know everything about everything. Every now and then we all need help. We need to identify what we need from our relationships and what we have to offer. I want to be the so called person for people when they are having a bad day. The one who has their back. As Joey said in Friends, no deed is selfless. When I am there for people, they are also there for me.
At my last corporate job, I advised my manager on anger issues; he hadn’t asked me. He told me that my guidance — frank conversations and listening — helped him.
This same manager now publicly says that he respects me and shares my articles.
You see the power of communication? Of caring? Of listening?
Candidness is a human touch that we all so desperately need. People around you help you to be open and candid which in turn relaxes you. Else your life would just be a boring desk job, right?
Referring back to Keith Ferrazzi — every thing, even business, always boils down to people. We need to do our work individually and then we need people. As a writer, I struggle alone for hours in the morning. But then I need writers to review my drafts and readers to read them. Even readers read when they feel a connection or can relate to the writing.
The essence of life is intelligently done hard work and a strong community of confidants around you.
A fellow Dutch traveler in South America told me that human intimacy is the best. It can be created in moments — on the street, in a food joint, in bus — but it can leave you overwhelmed and energized.
How do we build these crucial relationships?
Robert Greene said in his book Art of Seduction, successful seduction begins with your character, your ability to radiate some quality that attracts people, and stirs their emotions in a way that is beyond their control.
Twenty-five centuries ago, Lao-Tse, a Chinese philosopher said, that rivers and seas are called the kings of the valley because they keep below them. Thus they reign all over the mountain streams. If you wish to be above people, you have to keep yourself below them. You have to make them feel important and that their opinions count; they become sympathetic and kind. When I showed people that I thought they were better and more important, they treated me as if I was above them.
Be vulnerable. When you show vulnerability, people connect with you; it brings intimacy and openness. Television Sitcom Friends was successful as the human and error prone, sometimes emotionally weak, lead characters succeeded despite their fears and problems and that’s when common people could relate to them.
Make people laugh. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, said in her Ted talk that laughter is carbonated holiness. Once, my brother said to my mother, after we had finished a family get-together, “She joked with everyone but she did not say anything disrespectful.” His observation further boosted my confidence to joke around. This attitude helped me build better relationships at work implying better work coordination.
Take out time to listen to people and friends. As William Ury — co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, author, consultant to the White House — said in his Ted talk that people listen to you when you listen to them; listening is contagious.
A friend of mine, from University, visited Bangalore a few years ago for an interview. We had some issues and had not talked for years. I was at work when she sent an impromptu message. I went to see her and stayed at work two hours longer to make up for the lost time. We both won each other by giving each other another chance and some time.
Let your friends come back to you. Learn to forgive. Learn to ask for forgiveness.
Sophocles, the ancient Greek tragedian, correctly said that truth is always the strongest argument.
Admit your mistakes. People go soft when you admit mistakes. Once, my ex-boyfriend did something terrible and came running to me, accepting his mistake and asking for forgiveness. It was difficult to be angry with him.
Don’t point out the mistakes of someone right away even if you know they are wrong. It will hurt them and they would become defensive and conscious. Tell them that all humans make mistakes. A friend of mine once admitted that she peed while climbing stairs as she was drunk and laughing and the toilet was still two minutes away. I told her it was okay and that we all do it. I have never done it but who knows the future? What if I have done worse? No one is perfect. Martin Luther said, judge people by their own principles, not yours.
Replace screen time with people time in your relationships. Stan Tatkin, a researcher and a relationship expert, told in his Ted talk to look into the eyes of people when you talk. He said we are visual animals who need our eyes to manipulate each other’s nervous system.
Robert Waldinger and Susan Pinker, both of whom I have referred to before, agree to this. Susan Pinker said that personal and digital interactions are different as physical gestures such as high-fives, hand shakes, eye contact releases oxytocin which increases trust and lowers stress.
Form a group that cares about each other and encourages and protect each other.
Susan Pinker presented another observation that the top two predictors for long and happy life were social: people you can count on and number of people you interact with as you move along your day — not only close people but people such as your maid, cook, building watchman, cab driver, grocery seller, parlor ladies, showroom salesman, ticket collectors.
These people also deserve a look, a smile, a handshake, a joke. I work from home and the morning conversations with my maid and cook forms a huge part of my human contact every day.
Spend some time listening to their problems, concerns, and needs — forming a genuine human connection. Helping when you can. Adding some value to their life. Our achievements are also reflected in the achievements and gains of those around us — I give breakfast to my maid not because she does not have food but I want to emphasize that breakfast is an important meal.
You have to add value to people’s lives if you want them to add to yours.
Be expressive while managing your boundaries. Talk to people in the lift, in a queue, at the doctor’s, or at the dentist’s. Share your problems; it encourages people to share theirs.
Let others help you. It makes them feel needed which is crucial for strong relationships.
If you go to a physical group activity, don’t just work out while watching your toes all the time. Talk to people. Laugh about how rigid your body is. Sweat together. At my yoga center, I do partner exercises with a lady. Now, in heavy rains she asks if she can drop me home. I don’t accept her offer but it feels assuring that, if needed, I won’t be stuck at the flooded yoga building with an old guard and some random dudes from an office, who are really helpful but worry too much, making me conscious.
Observe people’s reactions to your behavior. Adapt as per each person. Let it go when people do not respond. Make them feel completely at ease around you.
Touch people. Literally. I am going to write a separate article about how human touch makes a huge difference. Hug them, kiss their cheeks: like South Americans, run your hand through their hair, brush their shoulder or back, hold their hand. Human touch is natural and it personalizes the relationship; we were not born to be physically isolated. But within your limits and without making anyone awkward. Don’t hold a husband’s hand in front of his wife or behind her. Replace that with a deeper smile. Or maybe a gentle quick brush on the shoulder which does not suggest anything else. Some men right now are saying, we are men and we don’t touch men. Doesn’t matter. You can also brush someone’s shoulder or arm. Or just smile eye to eye.
Reciprocate compliments. Not everyone has the heart to give them.
Even when I am alone I don’t feel unsafe, no matter in what part of the world I am and at what hour. It does not mean that I am not cautious. It means that I believe in the goodness of people. Even strangers. If you are nice to them, they would be nice to you. The other day, I told my friend that the cook and the maid at my new house are really good. She said, “Because you are good”. I have been stuck at borders without a visa. I have been pick-pocketed in a new city. I drank with strangers in Bangkok while I knew they wanted to sleep with me. Interested men who were touching me felt bad as I trusted them right in front of them and showed that they were breaking my trust and they had to fix it.
I have made it, mostly, by being nice.
When Anne Frank, despite everything, can believe that people are really good at heart, so can you.
If someone drops her coins on the floor, you have to get down on your knees to pick them. Believe me, nothing bad comes out of goodness as long as you don’t let people run over you. You wouldn’t even realize but the same people would come back to glue the broken pieces of your life. Maya Angelou rightly said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”