On Being Human: The Ties That Connect Us

Yesterday afternoon I felt happy. Then I learned my mother has cancer. I broke. I know what it is to be broken. If there’s one thing I can truly call myself an expert in, it’s the human psyche and how people break and get up. By experience . It’s no coincidence I do what I do for a living.

I feel a lot. Certainly now. Cancer. Mother. Fear. Limits. An end. Loss. You know. There are millions of people suffering and millions having cancer. There are no lessons to learn. But when driving back home yesterday night, after having dropped everything and visited my mother, I wrote a blog post in my head. It’s more or less this one.

When we have a hard time we often don’t want to share it publicly. The downs. The things that happen when you least expect them. It’s so much easier to pretend we’re strong, deny our pain and even ignore reality.

We don’t want to whine or complain, fearing rejection and hiding what doesn’t fit with the image we like others to have and with what we learned we had to be in order to be accepted. Rules. Values. You know. Yet, whose rules and values? We don’t want compassion. We prefer acting as if everything is allright. We want to take responsibility, are told to be strong and hide our weaknesses. Or at least, what we believe are weaknesses but in reality are strong and real human emotions. We often pretend we are so grand and independent. Online and certainly in this ‘connected world’, it’s regularly the only thing we tend to show: what’s ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’ according to the standards of the ecosystems in which we grow up, work and live.

Connected in isolation?

We also long for easy explanations. Efficiency. Time. Reasons. Motivations. Ratio. Yet seldom real reflection and emotion. The Web is full of quotes about strength and leadership. Courage. Realizing our full potential. The virtue of power and getting up after you have fallen. Sometimes it looks like one giant block-calendar with tweetable ‘wisdoms’. Watch Pinterest. Or your Facebook timeline. Motivational quotes are the silent emanations of what’s in reality a disconnected world where screens allow us to hide more than ever before and we need quotes where a human touch lacks. We like to believe we are more connected though. Social. And to a certain extent we are but at the same time we get lost, isolated and trapped in a world of simplification.

Yet, the reality cannot be captured in some silly sentences and in shallow connections. Our social reality is weakening. Yet, understanding the human mind and the invisible ties that connect us is essential in everything we do. For a living too. It’s what helps us make the difference by being genuine. Real feelings, real contact and the complexity of our behavior and emotions.

We are connected, it’s not black and white. Yet, the ties are often so quiet and invisible they seem gone until something happens that makes them surface and show how fragile and isolated we really are. Cancer. Pain. The great connector. Isn’t it ironic?

Human behavior is not always what we like it to be

Quotes source unknown

Quotes (source unknown)

Our emotions and social bonds are not just the ‘positive’ ties and traits we like to display to the world. The strength we like to herald. It’s also about other, very real relational feelings we all have and too often ignore. Anger, jealousy, pain, selfishness, the desire for power, envy. They never show up in quotes. They never are mentioned when we speak, as marketers, about psychology. We prefer to base ourselves on the naïve teachings of Maslow. Positivity over reality. Marketing. A simplistic pyramid.

There is so much more than that. There are no quick and easy solutions or magical motivational quotes. We like to believe there are so we can cope with the fears we all have and like to hide as long and far as we can. We are not divine. Our emotional life is not about biology and brain cells, the predominant approach in this era of science and belief in the glory of technology. It’s not just about simple positivity, behavioral approaches, quick taps on the shoulders or tweetable quotes either. Who we are and how we interact goes far deeper than what the eye and ratio can see. We just need to acknowledge it. If we don’t we’ll never understand the ties that connect us nor understand what it is to be human.

It’s also about admitting that we are not in control as much as we like to believe. And that we are not just valor, courage and capable of realizing our full potential. We can be weak, angry, selfish and jealous. We’re human. We try. That’s enough. We don’t have to be heroes. We don’t need quotes and labels confirming our very right to be.

Maybe I’m writing this to reach out. Maybe I’m sharing. Maybe I’m preaching. Maybe I’m agry. Or selfish. Or sad. Maybe writing is all I can do in order to keep the pain away.

Lessons learnt? None whatsoever. I don’t know. I feel confused. Just this: human behavior is not always what we like it to be nor what we like to see. It’s not simple either. The only way to be social is to be human, truly human. In all dimensions. Complete, integrated, bad, and good, whatever those words might mean. And emotional.

It’s OK to have pain and be real. It’s OK for you as well, mom. And it’s more than OK to show and share it. Leave simplicity where it belongs. Accept reality and complexity. Or just try.

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  • Jill Manty

    There is absolutely nothing more real and human than the feelings you are experiencing right now. Anger, fear, pain… you can’t breathe. You and your Mom are in my thoughts. Wishing you both hope and strength.

    • J-P De Clerck

      Thank you Jill for your kind words.

  • http://www.creativeoncall.com Chuck Kent

    Thank you. Thank you for breaking out of the content machine mold and being human. The truth of the matter is, there’s not enough truth to what seems to matter in our day-to-day lives. The more we can honestly be angry, anguished, joyful in all we do, the more that truth will set us free to be fully alive, online or off.

    I lost my first wife to cancer when she was 30, over a quarter century ago (even today, even with all I have been given since, I can’t type the start of that sentence without tearing up). Your post brings to mind two things from that time: first, how shallow and empty those easy aphorisms seemed as people offered them up with their desperate good intentions; secondly, how being honest, fully open and fully human with each other enabled us to enjoy an intensely loving, if unfairly short, marriage. Your comments could apply to my experience as well, as we were “complete, integrated, bad, and good, whatever…” and in the end, it was wonderful.

    • J-P De Clerck

      Thank you Chuck. I wish you these wonderful memories, lots of them. I don’t know your pain but I know it’s there. Much love.