By Josh Mesnik, Florida State University
From one perspective each of us has our own purpose as a part of a swirling sea of humanity. We hold a completely unique and necessary piece for the symphony of work, play, love and conflict that we are a part of. From this point of view our individuality has an integral purpose. We see that without our full expression, humanity would lack the diversity that we create by being who we are. Our place in the world is cherished. The pattern of our individuality is beautiful.
Incredibly, we seldom see the grand picture that we create together. As a young adult, I was fearful of my insignificance. I was not alone with this fear. To some degree as we are growing up many of us experience the feeling of being isolated. We assume our sense of disconnection points to the reality of being disconnected. Exploring this experience with my peers broke this assumption and challenged my deepest held beliefs.
I have come to the conclusion that our days are colored by how connected we feel to others around us. Although I still don't have a way to define or point to exactly what this connection is, I can identify a few qualities that are present among my friends and I who feel connected: Safety to express ourselves with honesty and vulnerability; inspiration to be creative; and confidence to face the challenges that affect us as a group. From observing my own growth, I believe that this sense of "togetherness" plays a prominent role in human development, and brings a previously unrealized vibrancy and sense of purpose to my life.
Luckily, college offers me both sides of the spectrum when it comes to experiencing human connection. In my engagement with over 30 students at Florida State University through a structured dialogue that I facilitated for "The QUESTion Project" (a non-profit educational program), I was able to gain insight into how young people like myself see the world and themselves in relationship to it.
In a past "QUESTion Project" lab, a group of us were engaged in dialogue during our exploration of "Interconnectedness". Talking about the experience of interconnection brought to the surface our experiences of "disconnection." We talked about how we sometimes feel so viscerally our separateness from our loved ones, friends and co-workers, along with the often-painful discordance that accompanies that feeling. We noticed that the sense of disconnection leads to discomfort, nervousness, frustration, and despair, along with fearful isolation and the sense that nobody can relate to our experience. Our individuality is sometimes seen as our prison, and our differences wall us off from other people.
Is it true that we are completely removed from everyone around us? My experience disagrees, so how can I share with people why I believe otherwise? Reflecting on my life, I see our shared humanity to be so profound, yet I find myself having a hard time letting it enter my relationships or my everyday conversations in a profound way. The reasons for this I believe are my own fears about isolation, but even more importantly the lack of a safe space to have these conversations and make these connections with my peers.
The core connections that were created in our labs showed me how valuable this space is in our world. We come together to explore things that are fundamental to the human journey, and so the relationships we build are strong in their base. The art of creating a safe space takes many forms, and bringing groups of people together in exploring topics that we all relate to proves effective not only in its simplicity, but also in its power to create connections between people.
After we finished an exercise where we went around the room sharing three of our biggest questions about life, a student commented: "What is really cool is that I have always felt that I am the only one thinking like this, but now I realize a lot of us are wondering about the same things. There is something special about so many of us in this room sharing the same fears, having the same questions, and wanting the same things that I want. I love that we aren't alone in all of this."
There is power in the realization that we aren't alone in asking the big questions, nor are we the only ones experiencing times of joy, moments of frustration, grand victories, or humbling defeats. These are all chapters in a story that we write together. As we co-author our lives, we learn from the experiences of others because these experiences mirror our own. From this realization, an acknowledgment and reverence of our shared humanity is cultivated and our sense of isolation dissolves, offering us an opportunity to create what young people in a crazy world desperately need: A pure, authentic and confident recognition that we all share this human journey together and that our unique experience and individuality is vital to our collective growth.