by Jennifer Partridge
Last week as I was coming home, I stopped at the neighborhood set of mailboxes. It is located next to an open area where the kids like to play. As I was getting out of my car, I heard a young voice exclaiming excitedly, “I thought that was you!” I looked over to see one of the 11 year-old neighbors and her friend running over to me with big smiles on their faces. As I got my mail, we talked for a minute or two, and then they went back to playing as I got in my car and headed home. That small encounter made my entire day!
What was so special about it? Well, first, I was flattered that a kid in the neighborhood was excited to see this old lady! Second, she took a moment to notice me and then to intentionally leave what she was doing to say hello. She didn’t give me a verbal compliment and we didn’t talk about anything profound. But her actions told me she cared and we made a short yet powerful connection that day.
According to Brene Brown, connection is:
“The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
To me, this is the essence of kindness, and it is exactly what happened to me that afternoon at the mailboxes. That moment of feeling valued definitely strengthened me! Each of us desires to be seen, heard, and valued. When someone makes an effort to show us they truly care, it lifts and strengthens us. Kindness doesn’t have to be a grand act of service, but instead consists of intention and effort.
Connection is important in our homes. I find when my kids are having a hard time, things go better not when I talk about their poor behavior, but when I take time to look in their eyes and do something to show I care about them as an individual. Connection is important in our neighborhoods. When neighbors know each other and value each other, they’re more likely to do things that will enhance the neighborhood and overlook the small things that don’t matter. Connection is important in our community. When we feel seen, heard, and valued, we can have productive dialogues regarding issues we disagree on and work together to find solutions.
How do we create connection? First, make it a priority. Ask yourself daily, “What can I do to connect with someone today?” Second, find small ways to show people that you value them and truly care about them. Send a text, make a phone call, write a note, deliver a treat. In situations with strangers, such as at the store, strike up a conversation. Now, I’m not suggesting you need to talk to every person you see while shopping! But when you’re standing right across from the cashier, you could very well make his or her day by making a small effort to say hello. How many people come through their line and don’t say anything? What a difference you can make to show them you see them as a fellow human being by talking to them!
One of the best ways to create connection is by asking sincere questions. Whether the other person is a stranger, an acquaintance, a coworker, friend, or family member, you can show interest in them by asking questions and then truly listening to understand. Sometimes in our conversations we tend to “one-up” each other. Although often not intentional, when they share something that reminds us of something in our own life, we start talking all about our experience and forget to listen to THEIR experience. Ask questions with genuine interest in making a connection!
What prevents us from building connections with others? Sometimes we worry that we will come off as “fake” and so we don’t even try. We get scared that we will be rejected or misunderstood. When you feel that way, remind yourself that people can sense sincerity. When you are trying to connect with someone, when you are desiring to learn more about them and to value them, you have nothing to lose! They will feel your love and will be strengthened by your small act of kindness, and you, too, will “derive sustenance and strength” from your efforts to build the relationship.
Jennifer Partridge is a wife and mom to 3 boys and 1 girl, ages 11-19. She currently serves on the Provo School District Board of Education and is also passionate about kindness, connection, and building community. Jennifer loves chocolate, Disneyland, date nights at all of the amazing Provo restaurants, working out, and traveling.