Removing the mask and connecting with people

I am not talking about the mask that we are all wearing these days to protect us from COVID. I am talking about the ego mask that we all wear that prevents us from presenting to the world the true us.

I am an introvert. It is uncomfortable for me to talk to people who I don’t know well. When two people are talking in the office hallway, I find it hard to jump in. On my evening walks in the society, when I see someone who I don’t know well, it is awkward to stop by for smalltalk. My job requires me to connect with people — thus, I have trained myself to talk to people, hold conversations, go on dinner and so on. However, it is always an energy draining exercise.

Often, during early interaction with someone, the thing that is noticeable the most is the ego projection of the person. I am surrounded by highly educated people, working in large NMCs, fat pay checks, big houses, big cars and even bigger ambitions. This persona is what people typically bring early into the relationship. I am sure I do the same. This is a barrier in allowing two people who have no real dependence or need for each other to be able to connect as humans.

I made a lot of deep connections in school and college. In school and college, we get to spend a lot of time together with a group of people. Our means are limited. We are away from our families. We need the group for meeting personal as well as educational needs. We are also in the age group where the ego functions are not fully developed yet. This allows deep bonds to form.

By the time we start working, our ego state starts to mature. We are independent. Respected. We have the means to do what we want, when we want it. This makes bonding hard. Still, workplace forces us to spend lot of time with people. It is not possible to keep our mask all the time. Thus, while not as easy as school, workplace does allow some deep connections.

There is a phase of life, starting around puberty and ending around the time we get married and have kids which is the age of friendships. This is a time when we have a few friends who feel as close as family. By the time we reach middle age, in addition to the ego function being at its peak, life gets busier with responsibilities. Kids take a lot of time. Job requires long hours. Spouse has their own preferences, needs and judgement. All of this not only makes forming new bonds harder, but also makes it hard to sustain the old ones with the same level of intensity. Relocation also causes strong bonds to fade away over time.

Before the pandemic hit, I was busy playing the roles I had to play at work, as a parent, as a spouse — as an adult. Life was super busy and I did not notice the loss of connections most of the times. Due to COVID, life has virtually come to a standstill. Days are confined within the boundary walls of the house and the repetitiveness of the routine feels like we are living in a time loop.

I now feel the loss of connections in a way that I have never felt before. Social connections are necessary for our survival. Thus, we need to invest time in building connections constantly — just as much as we need to invest time in managing our health, finances, career and family.

Today’s lifestyle does make it hard to build new connections. We need to find ways to quickly bring our own child and the child in the other person out. Sports is a great way of doing that. Playing cricket, table tennis or even golf, sweating out in the sun, partnering with a group of people trying to win something inconsequential allows people to become vulnerable easily. Taking trips together, joining a musical band, dance group, painting group or a charitable organisation can do the same thing.

Even if it feels like a drain on energy, we have to put effort to connect with people. We have to spend enough time with people so that they let their guards down and really show us who they are. There will be a lot of cases where our attempts do not succeed. Also, we will come across a lot of people where the frequencies will not match. We will also need to be careful and watchful of protecting ourselves against thugs and manipulators. Despite these challenges, this investment is the only way to build deep connections, which will then yield the psychological returns we are need for survival.

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I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

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Selfish Altruist

Selfish Altruist

I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

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