You've probably heard of the “six degrees of separation” philosophy, which asserts that everyone in the world is six or fewer connections away from one another. Oddly enough, as of 2013, research shows that we are all actually closer to only four connections away from one another, thanks to Facebook. Wild, isn’t it?
I remember telling a giddy, testosterone-charged boy in my eighth grade class that he was connected to Pamela Anderson through this web -- I had a family friend who lived next door to her in Malibu; she was connected to me through just one other person, and therefore connected to this teenage boy by two.
It’s a fun game to play with celebrities, or quasi-celebrities in the case of people like Pamela Anderson, but we don’t often play it on the other less-glamorous end of the spectrum.
But guess what? It works the same way. Just as you may be connected to Pamela Anderson by any number of degrees, you are also connected to other people you see on the news or read about in magazines: starving, HIV-positive, single mothers in Uganda, trafficked sex slaves in Cambodia, the men and women who make your clothes and jewelry in other faraway places.
A lot of times these connections are less fun to think about -- but what if we honor these connections in the same way we do with other ones?
Just as we “network” to land a job interview with a big company, using a friend of a friend to get a foot in the door, we have the opportunity to explore other people we are connected to -- perhaps people who instead of helping us, need us to help them.
Cultivating your connection to someone in a Third World country may physically bring you to that place to do volunteer work at some point in your life, or maybe it’s as simple as psychologically bringing you to a headspace in which you are thinking about that person and praying for them, bringing them up in conversation and inadvertently raising awareness about their situation.
For example, as a marketing consultant for Ananda Soul, I am connected to the Balinese women who make many of Ananda’s bracelets: I am connected to Christina, the brand’s founder and designer (Connection #1), and Christina knows and interacts with those women (Connection #2), so therefore I, too, am connected to them.
From a universal standpoint, my support of (aka ‘connection to’) Ananda’s job creation program in Bali, enhances the lives of a number of women who might otherwise be out on the street.
And knowing that and meditating on it enhances my life, too, because it means that for some period of time I’m thinking about others, potentially improving their lives in addition to my own.
Harriet Lerner, in her relationship guide, The Dance of Intimacy, wrote, “Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.”
Lerner wrote this in the context of romantic relationships, but I find it to be just as applicable to our place in the universe. We all want to lead good, meaningful lives (I hope), and that journey connects us to others along the way -- people who challenge us and make us think about the world and ourselves in different ways.
Because of the inevitable interconnectedness we all experience every day, I suggest that we pay closer attention to each connection, pondering its presence in our lives earnestly, and cultivating it with intention. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the easiest ways to do this is by being a conscious consumer. Recognize how your actions and dollars have the potential to affect people around the world and consider what that means to you.
Can you grow personally by carefully evaluating the connections in your life?