One Magic Question to Ask to Connect with Anyone, Forever
We’re deluged with opportunities to pose these days. The power of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and the rest of social networks is deployed to coax us to fictionalize our circumstances and “fake better,” as psychologists would say. Very few people use these platforms to be authentic, most succumb to using them as ways to seem to be successful, happy, smart or connected.
People don’t happen to connect through their success, though. In fact, were you to sit around a table with four or five other people and swap stories about times you’ve been lucky in love or an astute investor or thrilled to achieve a new level of physical fitness or to have been promoted, you would all remain strangers to one another. You might even kindle more envy and ill-will than admiration.
The truth is that people connect—for real—around those events in life during which they felt most challenged, most uncertain, most hurt or most in need of help. Empathy is a far more powerful force than admiration. Self-disclosure is a far more powerful act than self-celebration.
If Facebook were more about facing the tough stuff we’ve lived through, rather than wearing masks of unlimited false friendship and “fake better” fictions, it could potentially be a tool for good. Instead, it is a toxic, addictive force that separates people from themSELVES and from one another.
How can you combat these forces that would mask you and prevent you from truly connecting with others? I have a question that you can ask and be prepared to answer that will be a kind of immunization against being a fictional character in your own life story and allowing others to remain fictional characters, too.
Here it is: If you were to think of yourself as a book—a biography or autobiography—and imagine reading that book, what one page or chapter of your life story would you be tempted to remove because it was so stressful, embarrassing or painful? Mind you, not a word would actually be removed; we’ll acknowledge from the beginning that every event can make you more strong or more loving or more sensitive. But if you were tempted to remove one paragraph, page or chapter, going all the way back to early childhood, what would it be?
For one person, the answer might relate to a profound loss that person suffered. For another person, the answer might relate to a wrongminded decision he or she made or a really risky move he or she made.
Whatever the answer is, if the person you ask will share it with you, and if you will do the same using your own life story, then the two of you will cease being strangers in one another’s life. You’ll be connected for real.
Human beings, you see, connect because they can resonate with one another’s pain, not because they resonate with one another’s curriculum vitae or bank account balance or trophies.
Keep the magic question handy and start using it. I bet you’ll be amazed how quickly you understand its power—which is the power of truth.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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