The Transforming Power Of Connection

We’ve all heard the phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.” We may even say it when we see someone less fortunate, like the family huddled by the freeway exit holding the “will work for food” sign. But we don’t really believe it. There’s an imaginary veil of “otherness” between us and them that allows us to attribute the great differences in our circumstances to personal choices. But we’ve all made bad choices. It’s just that some of us are able to recover, learn from our mistakes, and continue on a positive path, while others’ decisions may lead to a downward spiral.

Maybe you’re not that different from the homeless family you saw on the road. One tiny change of events could have led to totally different outcomes — both for you and them. What if you didn’t bounce back from a bad incident? Because that’s what it often comes down to: One poor choice that acts as the catalyst for more bad choices and lots of bad luck.

How can you bridge the gap with these people and form a real connection? It’s easy to help others, but it takes added effort to foster communication with them. A lot of people volunteer in food kitchens, deliver meals to the needy, and so on, and they feel good about doing good. Sometimes, though, those charitable endeavors keep us from peeking behind the veil, so to speak. They let us maintain the illusion that we could never be on the other side of that soup kitchen table. For a real sense of compassion, you have to get to know the “less fortunate” as people instead of as part of the scenery.

Take Room in the Inn, an organization that goes far beyond simply offering food and shelter by also providing friendship and hospitality. Volunteers not only dole out soup and sandwiches but sit with the guests side by side at the same tables, talking about their lives. Volunteers learn the names and stories behind the faces and share hugs and prayers. Over a meal, that veil of otherness is ripped aside, reminding everyone present that we’re all just people. Our circumstances may be different, but our humanity is not.

Showing kindness to strangers is something we can all do, but the real miracles happen when that kindness turns strangers into friends. When you’ve shared coffee and dessert with the homeless guy panhandling at the corner, it becomes impossible to look away and walk by. Once you’ve looked him in the eye, heard his story, and shared a hug or a handshake, he’s not a stranger anymore. He’s a person who serves as a direct reminder that we’re not so different after all.

Image source: Flickr