[Listen to me read this reflection here]
During a recent gathering I hosted at my place, with a mix of new and old friends, someone asked me how I knew everyone here. As I began to answer the question, I began to notice how diverse the threads of connection can be.
Having lived in Portugal for one year now, I have collected a wide and diverse range of connections that I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate. My Lisbon-based community is relatively large, continually growing and refreshingly diverse.
The benefits of having such a diverse community are countless.
I am constantly exposed to different cultures, different tastes, different accents, different fashion, different upbringings and much more. I find it interesting and energizing.
I have not felt the need to travel very much, despite local travel being so affordable and easy in continental Europe. With friends from all corners of the world, be it from Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, China, Ukraine, Germany, Mexico, Romania, Lebanon, France and countless other countries, I get to experience the world without even getting on a plane. The gathering I had recently hosted had people from at least 20 different countries.
And as new connections deepen and vulnerability increases, I begin to learn about different values. How people relate to money, politics, religion, sex, equality, equity, globalization, capitalism and more. It is one thing to read about this in a book, it is a completely different thing to talk with someone in real life about their experiences. This diversity in values provides me with not only the intellectual stimulation that I often seek, but more importantly, cultivates the qualities of openness and tolerance that help me feel even more connected to community.
A few years ago, I was in London visiting a close friend who had moved there for her masters program and stayed. We were out to brunch with her closest friends, and at one point, I interrupted the group conversation and innocently asked, ‘how many of you have British friends?’. After an awkward pause, only one person reported that they had one British friend.
During that conversation, I began to reflect about how most major cities have three distinct populations that despite sharing the same physical space, rarely intersect in any meaningful way.
You have locals or natives, who were born and brought up in the place, and moreover identify strongly with it.
You have foreigners, expats or immigrants, who primarily identify with some other place but have moved to this place and have made the conscious choice to call it home.
And you have visitors or tourists, people who are passing through the place, be it for a few days or a few months, be it for play or work.
At the recent gathering I hosted, there was a balanced mix of all three of these populations. This is very rare. A fair number of local Portuguese, who would often light up when finding another local who they could converse with in Portuguese. A diverse group of foreigners, motivated to build new connections in their new home. And a sprinkling of visitors, who were connected to someone who I had invited and appreciated the chance to connect to the city through people who live here.
Very few of my friends know what I do, and even those that do don’t seem very interested in knowing more. I also am rarely interested in understanding what my friends do.
Living in Southern Europe now, I can see clearly how North American it is to connect with new people through the lens of what they do. It is only since living now in a new continent, country and culture that I have come to appreciate and experience first-hand the different threads of connection that can help two people bind.
It is refreshing to be able to have a three hour dinner with someone relatively new, and the topic of what we do is nowhere to be found. It is also telling that with some of my closest friends, who I see or speak with at least once a week, what we do never comes up.
When I am connected with myself, beyond what I do, I begin to connect with others beyond what they do. I have learned that this is the key to unlock a larger, more diverse community.
The unconscious thought pattern that often arises otherwise is that if I do not understand what you do, I may not understand you. Or if I do not like what you do, I may not like you. It becomes a very narrow lens by which to see myself, and to see you.
The most important thread of connections in my life are the ones about how I connect with myself. There are moments when I feel lost, ungrounded and unsettled. In those moments, it is extremely difficult to connect with others. And in the moments when I feel solid and clear in my relationship with myself, it becomes effortless to invite diversity in the threads of connection with others. And this ultimately leads to a fulfilling and deep sense of community, that in turn further fuels me on my journey through life.