Earlier this week, I attended a discussion about connecting with people and the presenter made a comment that what people crave most is the familiar. He noted that, over millions of years, our brains have developed to desire what is familiar to us and to fear what is not familiar. In other words, we don’t like change.
At the same time, however, I think that there is a tension as the majority of people that I meet are not interested in stagnation. They want to learn and grow personally, and they want to do that continually. This desire for lifelong learning made me think of a quote I saw in one of my son’s classes at back-to-school night earlier in the fall. It was from Admiral Byrd and said, “No man can hope to be completely free who lingers within reach of familiar habits.”
So, we’ve got these opposing forces; a desire for exploration and personal growth and a fear of change. How can we overcome that gravitational pull of familiarity? Or better yet, how do we make the unfamiliar seem more familiar so that it is not so scary?
I can think of two ways that can help. The first is to engage with as many people of different backgrounds as we can. I’m fortunate because my job puts me in contact with many people and I get a window into their view of the world and how they see their place in it. Some have had successes; some have had missteps, and many have had both. If your job doesn’t provide this access to people, then you have to find clubs, organizations, etc. I have a client who in retirement has become an amazing photographer. Prior to retirement, I don’t think she traveled a lot but she now has a community of photography buddies and travels extensively, all over the world, snapping photos. Had she not taken that step into the unknown to build that community, she would have missed out on the amazing journeys she now takes.
The second idea is to read more; fiction and non-fiction. I find that reading opens the world for me and makes me a little more familiar with ideas, cultures and people than I might not otherwise be. In a world where we often struggle to understand each other, as British writer Malorie Blackman said “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.”
I wish you much luck and success on your own personal journey.
This week’s selection is:
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
It’s March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the next six months, new friendships and romances will take hold, while old betrayals will emerge, forcing each character to reevaluate whom they love and what matters most. The unlikely cast of characters includes a Russian-born novelist; his Russian-born psychiatrist wife; their precocious child obsessed with K-pop; a struggling Indian American writer; a wildly successful Korean American app developer; a global dandy with three passports; a Southern flamethrower of an essayist; and a movie star, the Actor, whose arrival upsets the equilibrium of this chosen family.