Love connects us to one another and allows us to do extraordinary things.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Charles L. Brown, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel during WWII. His plane suffered a devastating hit during a mission and started to go down. At that moment, a German pilot named Franz Stigler intercepted Brown’s plane and miraculously helped escort it out of German airspace. According to Brown, he locked eyes with Stigler, and in that fateful moment of connection, love triumphed even in the throes of war.
I love that story and what it illustrates, but in the more common context of a workplace or heated social discourse, choosing “love” can feel like a lot. When I talk about loving others, I don’t mean romantic love, or even the kind of love that comes from sharing another person’s interests and goals. When I talk about loving people, I mean simply connecting on an authentic level, sharing only the experience of being human and treating that person with respect. I think, deep down, we all understand this.
It’s harder to be empathetic through a screen.
Despite living in a hyper-connected world—or perhaps because of it—love and compassion are often elusive, while hate and fear run rampant. Not only are we less physically connected when we engage online and on social media, but we’re engaging with less authentic versions of people. Online personas are limited, curated and often only include the high points. So right off the bat, it’s a far cry from true connection.
It would be all too simple to point the finger at the media as the bad guy, keeping us in the realm of fear instead of opening us up to love. But there’s more to it than that.
We’re too busy looking externally.
Everyone has an inherent need for belonging, acceptance and a sense of worth. It’s what unites us as human beings. But when we look externally for those things, we automatically create distance between the person we portray to the world and the person we really are. I’ll give you an example.
Imagine you are a 10-year-old again, and your parents buy you the coolest pair of yellow sneakers for the new school year. You’re so excited to get to school and show off your new shoes, but when you get off the bus, your friends immediately make fun of them. You are humiliated and embarrassed, left to wonder why you thought they were cool in the first place. You want to throw those yellow shoes in the trash and never look at them again. In that moment, you are learning to look outward for validation, and the person you showed the world got a little bit farther away from what feels true inside.
Fear and judgment come from a need to protect ourselves.
These little incidents and decisions build up over time, continuing into adulthood. Even if you decided, “Screw it, I’m going to wear the shoes anyway,” you still had to make a trade-off between authenticity and belonging. Many of us struggle just to know who we are inside, let alone show up in the world that way.
It’s no wonder it’s difficult to play nicely sometimes. We hurl judgment and fear toward challenging opinions, because on an elemental level, that challenge ignites a need to defend and protect ourselves against the feeling that we don’t belong. In reality, we all belong to each other simply by existing on the planet together, and we’re bound together by this shared need for safety and belonging.
This is why seeking out true connection—treating one another with love—is so important. Not only does it give us a stronger, more positive relationship with the world around us, but it deepens our connection to ourselves. It gives us a sense of belonging based on what we recognize inside instead of what we see on the outside.
So how do we do this? How do we manage conflict with more grace and love for ourselves and each other?
Lay your armor down and get curious.
It starts with letting go of judgments. Not just of others, but of yourself. I want you to ask yourself what it would look like if you weren’t judging yourself. How would that feel? How would you show up differently?
I challenge you to give this a try: Write down all of your judgments for one day. I’m willing to bet you’re throwing them around before you even get out of bed in the morning. Notice how critical you are of yourself and where you are being unkind to yourself. If you can extend a bit of grace to yourself—a human being, trying your best—you might find it easier to offer that same kindness to others.
When you feel yourself judging others, use it as an opportunity to get curious. Where is the judgment coming from? What would it look like if you could let it go?
When you can approach conflict from this perspective of love and openness, you’ll be able to lay your armor down, be curious rather than judgmental and interact with the world from a place of authenticity.
Your ability to love others is directly proportional to your ability to love yourself.
I’m not asking you to let go of your values—in fact, being really clear about what your values are is essential to embracing your authenticity. I’m asking you to begin to understand who you are and to show yourself love.
Be kind to yourself. You are a gorgeous and imperfect being, just like every human on Earth. We’ll continue to clash with one another, that’s for certain, but that’s part of the human experience. We are meant to learn and grow through our relationships, and sometimes it’s a bumpy process.
As the German pilot Franz Stigler did when he helped Charles Brown reach safer air, recognize the humanity in those around you. We’re all on individual journeys—trying, succeeding, failing and trying again. It seems obvious, but it’s still worth saying: If we can lay down our armor and treat one another more respectfully, we’ll find ourselves in a much more civil environment where we’re all free to grow.
Start with YOU.
This isn’t easy, especially if you find yourself carrying around a lot of anger and resentment. It takes time to unpack that and let it all go. That is why hiring a coach to help you process through it, release it and take action in a different way is so impactful. I’m happy to be that someone. Book a discovery session today, and let’s unpack together.