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Modern society has done a great job of privatising problems

The highlight of my weekend was attending a live conversation and poetry recital with the Psychotherapist Esther Perel, and the poet David Whyte. Wow, they were incredible. If you haven't seen either of their work, I highly recommend reading their books or watching their videos online. Especially with Esther, some of the topics are likely to make you uncomfortable, as she cuts to the heart of one of the most challenging aspects of our personal relationships - intimacy.

The focus of the 3-hour conversation was on relationships, predominantly our intimate relationships, but the principles they were discussing spill over into most of the relationships in our lives, including professional relationships at work. It was a dense discussion, but I thought I would pull out one point which challenged me deeply:

"Modern society has done a great job of privatising problems."

As humans, we've lived in small tribes and communities for the majority of our existence. In these smaller groups, we were heavily dependent on each other for our survival, and very involved in each other's affairs. If someone in the tribe was struggling, most people knew about it. This meant that, at least in high functioning tribes, we could support each other through the inevitable hard times.

Modern society has moved very far away from this. Advances in technology have meant that we don't rely on our community anymore, and life has become increasingly private and isolated, most especially with regards to our problems. Add to this that mediums like facebook and instagram read like the highlights reel of your life, and one can see how our problems are just getting buried deeper and deeper in our psyches, much to our psychological detriment.

So how does this apply to the workplace? The question is layered, because in many ways, our modern workplace is a bit like a tribe of old. We rely deeply on each other to meet our goals. None of us can achieve the business' potential in isolation. And yet, we rightly need to put up certain boundaries between ourselves and our colleagues to keep our relationships "professional". It's an interesting tension, and I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do have a first step which I'm committed to leading by example:

I believe in speaking of various challenges I am going through, and sharing my experiences.

As humans we are deeply wired for connection, so how best can we connect with those around us?

When we see ourselves in another, or they speak about something in their lives which touches on an experience we're having in our own life (in this case our experience at work), we find connection. When challenges are experienced by people at work, but instead of being discussed they are swept under the rug or pushed to the side, then the opportunity for connection is lost. Most often, these matters are not discussed because they are messy, layered, result in conflict, and don't have a definitive outcome. Most of us would rather avoid this. As it goes in all relationships, this can work in the short term, but it' a disastrous long-term strategy.

My personal challenge to everyone this week is to ask yourself the question, which courageous conversations have you been avoiding? Could you use this week as an opportunity to take a leap into the unknown? The risks are real, but the opportunity is connection, and by my estimation that's a risk worth taking.


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