We were raised to believe that it was important to have an objective or end goal, and the context surrounding it was secondary. So we looked for the love of our lives, our dream job, true friends and connection. But as we travelled down this road, we realized that each objective had a different background. They were unexpected and sometimes superficial: “weak links” that keep us company without going too deep.
Sometimes they might feel like an annoying “waste of time”, other times they can provide us with much needed relief on gloomy days. We can’t box them off because they are never a priority, like acquaintances rather than friends. We can’t control them, but they are the bread and butter of our everyday lives. That’s what we mean by “weak links”: it’s the essence of our everyday social lives, creating opportunities to stay with others.
They are generous because they don’t tie us down, but they’re also unpredictable and demanding. Right now, weak links feel like a thing of the past, and their absence weighs us down.
Over the past year, we’ve only been able to see and touch a very small circle of people. The people that are “worth” taking a risk for. We’ve tried to substitute those links with two-dimensional technology, almost trying to make up for the lack of physical contact. We’re talking about those spontaneous meetings that aren’t in your diary, the ones that underpin our relationships.
According to researcher Andrew Guydish, in the pre-covid working world, there was the opportunity to have reciprocal conversations. It allowed people to balance interactions throughout their day, not just the time spent in meetings. When people were able to do so, they felt happier and more satisfied afterwards. But this space isn’t there for us at the moment.
How many other things have we lost, along with weak links? We interviewed a few people to see what they thought – here’s what they had to say:
“I feel like I’m being deprived of life. Everything is scaled back. I don’t think about it while I’m busy at work, but when I stop, I think about it and ask myself: when will I be able to go back to normal and have friends over for a party?”
“Weak links weren’t at the centre of my life or time, but they gave me energy and made me feel like I was part of something bigger. This situation only emphasizes that“.
“I feel like a key part of my life is gone, and I feel more alone than ever“.
“I miss casual meetings, that time spent with friends that you don’t see much but you still love them, that small talk in work meetings with a coffee in hand… I miss spending time with others!”
“That’s what life is. It’s not just about stability or strong links. We miss life“.
We’d be mistaken in thinking we’re missing it because we don’t have a lot to do, or that we’re seeing a limited number of people. Just like an Italian CEO said: “I’m tired of being the boss, the husband, the father and maybe even the friend on the phone: I want to start living again, touch people, hug them, kiss them, dodge them, walk away from them. But instead I find myself here, like a hamster on its wheel”.
When we can’t see our friends and family, what happens to our identity and emotions? What happens when we can’t see those who aren’t are friends, the people that we haven’t chosen?
“Strip out the humanity, and there’s nothing but the transaction left” says Amanda Mull on The Atlantic.
She continues: “Peripheral connections tether us to the world at large; without them, people sink into the compounding sameness of closed networks. Regular interaction with people outside our inner circle “just makes us feel more like part of a community, or part of something bigger”. People on the peripheries of our lives introduce us to new ideas, new information, new opportunities, and other new people. If variety is the spice of life, these relationships are the conduit for it”.
So, was having an objective not enough? Shouldn’t we think of every action as leading to a result? Or maybe we were missing seeing or appreciating something that was key to our everyday lives, something that actually gave us humanity? Well, now we know. Now we don’t have those interactions anymore, we can see things clearly. Let’s prepare to rediscover those connections post-covid. Just like one of the people I interviewed said:
“It’s true. We have lost lots of people around us, that even if they were superficial connections, they did us some good. But we’ll find them again as soon as we take our masks off and let go of our fear. We need to find them again because we need them. Because Terenzio was right when he wrote: Homo sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto (I’m a man, nothing that is human is alien to me). So let’s get ready to find each other again”.
This article was originally written by our CEO, Riccarda Zezza, for Alley Oop, il Sole 24 Ore. To read the original article in Italian, click here.