Who are you? Why are you reading this? And how would I know what you feel unless you told me? There ought to be a shift from passively viewing one another on social media, to actively starting out with a simple hi. Here's why.
Running a website means I can see the incoming traffic (in numbers, not names). Every now and then I publish something of substance and it gets a decent amount of traffic. But I’m always left wondering who these people are. Certainly most might click and then realize it’s not for them, but who are the ones who actually read my website, view my photos, and never let me know? It’s not wrong to remain quiet, but it certainly makes me curious.
Sometimes I find myself reading the things that 'friends' post on social media and I realize I actually haven’t talked to them in years. Look at how loosely we use the word friends to begin with. These days, I’m trying to send these people a personal message to say hi again. It seems ridiculous to be ‘connected’ on social media, but to be unwilling to chat even through text, let alone in person. Social media has a way of making us think we’re more friendly and in touch than we really are. Especially when we can see that people are feeling more disconnected from one another than ever before (read this lengthy, but superb viewpoint about Facebook on The Atlantic).
I started this website to update people back home about my travels, but it quickly changed into something else. It’s about what I learn on the road, and about my strong desire to build and find community, even while travelling.
Perhaps the greatest lesson that travel has taught me in 8 months is that human connection is the most important thing in my life. You can say you want to be happy in life, but I'd ask where the happiness stems from. Or maybe you want money, but I'd ask how and who you'd spend it on (the thought of a billionaire who trusts no one, alone in a luxurious room might be one of the saddest of all). Maybe you want security, or love, or freedom -- but all of these things stem from or intertwine with human connection.
Human connection comes above money, above beautiful beaches, above material possessions, and above everything else for me. It's the umbrella that covers friendship, kindness to strangers, romance, sex, thoughtfulness, and collaboration. One year on the crisis phone line taught me that most problems in this world stem from betrayal or severed ties with other people. How simple it is to reverse this, and yet how rare it happens.
I crave enriched conversations with people. It’s the thing that sustains me and makes life interesting. I’ve written about how you can communicate with others without using words, or how just the presence of others can be comforting. But my ultimate favourite is having a conversation of depth with another person who’s looking for answers (we should never stop looking, and that’s why a connection this deep can go for a lifetime).
Nearly one year ago, back in Canada, I vividly remember sitting on two simple chairs under a tree in my parents' backyard having the most honest conversation with my grandma. She knew that I was planning this journey across the world, and while she couldn’t understand my logic behind it, she could understand my heart. She too, had been guided by intuition before. I heard from a side of her that I never had before. This was the conversation I’d always wanted to have with her, and I finally did.
Since that moment I’ve recreated the experience with many people on the road (and with others back home from a distance). The not-so-secret ingredient is authenticity. It takes pushing past fear of judgment. Just trust that the other person will take care of your emotions as you share, and from there something beautiful can grow.
Now I’m in George Town, Malaysia. This country is a completely refreshing change to what I've experienced so far. Right now there's chanting echoing from the mosque through the town as rain falls and thunder roars. This city is full of heritage colonial-style buildings and a harmonious, diverse mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and westerners. The food scene is superb (the flavours are keeping me here for weeks now), and the people are kind.
I stroll the streets and take photos in the mornings. I seek refuge from the intense heat and humidity in the afternoons in air-conditioned restaurants and cafes. I dine with a new friend in the evenings at street vendors stalls and watch the diversity strolling by.
Yet each day I’m still very aware that I’m on the other side of the world. With every delicious Indian dosa and chai tea, or Chinese dim sum and green tea, I still realize that I’m far from plenty of people that I care about.
So this time, if you’ve read this far, I have a simple request. A message from you means more to me than you might know. I have moments of loneliness on the road, but it isn’t a bad thing. If anything, it just makes me realize how much I’d love to hear from you.
So here's something new I haven't done before -- I'm asking you to leave a comment below saying hi, or even better, to send me an email with your mailing address information and an update on your life, and I promise to mail you a postcard from Malaysia while I'm here. It doesn't matter who you are, or what our history is. It doesn't matter where you're from or how little we've talked in the past. If we've met in person at any moment in time, and if you read this blog, then I want to hear from you and I want to send you a postcard.
Keep connected with one another, but in an active way. It's about more than a one click ‘like’. Hell, here's a challenge - send 10 private messages on Facebook to people you haven’t talked to in over a year. Check in and ask if everything’s ok in their lives. If you don't care to do this, ask yourself why you're friends to begin with. The results can only be more human, that much is for sure. Who knows where things might lead. ■
How many friends have you forgotten to reach out to?