Strength is viewed as a sign of success. We aim to strengthen ourselves both individually and within organizations – and there is ample material to tell us how to achieve this. I think of strength as a matrix, with each experience representing a bond holding together individual points. The quality of these experiences impact the quality of the bonds and hence, the strength of the individual and the community or organization. As I collect thoughts for a 4-H post to celebrate Canada150, I reflect on Trudeau’s quote on the bottom of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms written in 1981: ‘We must now establish the basic principles, the basic values and beliefs which hold us together as Canadians so that beyond our regional loyalties there is a way of life and a system of values which make us proud of the country that has given us such freedom and such immeasurable joy!’ The values and beliefs that hold us together as Canadians are a mosaic of shared experiences and our strength lies in these connections!
Recognizing the impact of experience:
According to Merriam-Webster, knowledge is the condition of knowing something gained through experience. Without experiences to place the knowledge in context, there is nothing to hold the structure together. You can tell a baby how to walk or a child how to read but without repeatedly working at it, it doesn’t happen. We make sense of the world through feedback we receive from the world and if we don’t stretch outside of our comfort zone, we don’t grow. Collectively our experiences create the infrastructure that allows us to gain knowledge.
At times we equate agreement with strength. We are pull together for success. When we introduce new experiences and someone expresses a belief or an idea that is different from our own, it triggers a reaction. Depending on the amount of energy or emotion we hold in our beliefs will determine the level of this reaction. If we hang out with like-minded individuals, life can be quite comfortable because no one really challenges our thinking. And although we might feel good and share some laughs, we may not be stretching our thinking nor contributing to our larger community. Through new experiences, we will introduce conflict with our beliefs but we will also create stronger bonds between us to allow us to grow together.
Five steps to strengthen connections:
1. Create environments that are safe to explore and experiment:
For adults in the work environment, many roles have become increasingly focused on measurable results, which outline very specific routines and deliverables. The experiences become a series of repetitive tasks as outlined by management, leaving little room for creativity and bonding. Work may be done in isolation, using technology to connect individuals but webinars and conference calls are completely different experiences from live meetings. Our office may feel like a safe space but we need to feel safe to venture beyond.
For our children, our fears for safety and desire to measure performance have resulted in environments that are very controlled with limited room for experimenting. It is difficult to benchmark students if they are each doing something different so standardized becomes a common. Finding ways to expand the learning environment outside the classroom will create greater knowledge. Let’s focus on creating space!
2. Reinforce the value of experiential learning and development:
In the age of mass media, we have created a bit of an illusion that watching is learning. However, the experience is generally very repetitive and passive. It is one thing to watch someone explain how they climbed Mt. Everest. We can say we know how to do and what to watch for but it is quite different to actually do it, experiencing all the sensory perceptions that come with the trek. Let’s focus on creating our own experiences!
3. Identify a variety of experiences within individuals and among groups:
Career pathing is a common example of providing talented employees a series of cross-departmental work experiences to groom for leadership positions. For our youth, programs such as Scouts, Cadets and 4-H provide invaluable experiences, not only to learn hands-on, specific skills but also to provide an environment to make connections that will serve individuals long after the program completion. In the book Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to do the Right Thing (Schwartz & Sharpe, 2010), it is proposed that we can never create enough rules to make up for the value of experiential throughout a career. Let’s focus on personal experiences to gain intuitive wisdom.
4. Acknowledge the impact of past experiences on current behaviour:
In attribution theory, we attribute a person’s actions to either the individual or the situation depending on their past behaviours. What we often underestimate, both in ourselves and in others, is the gut impact of our reactions to past experiences. Many of us can relate to irrational anxieties over delivering a speech in public, needles, heights and others. Let’s acknowledge that we all react to our past in irrational ways.
5. Provide tools to neutralize our inevitable negative reactions:
Conflict is the driver for growth. When we feel a stress response, it is our cue that something is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Our initial tendency may be to avoid the stressor or try to change it. If we are unable to do so, we build up our own strength to withstand the demands. But what if we had a fast and effective tool to simply reduce the stress response. Something that would allow us to feel comfortable in our environment despite all the things that are happening that are not to our liking. We could still hold the same beliefs but we would not react with the same intensity. Logosynthesis® provides a unique, tested technique to neutralize our reactions to these stress triggers so that we can create a better space for expansive thinking, whether individually or in a group. Let’s focus on personal development to let go of our reactions.