What Gives our Lives Meaning... and Can Change the World

When I was in my 20s, there was a group of us who met regularly at this neighborhood bar. It was small but had great ambiance... a dozen cafe tables each covered with a sheet of white mural paper and a tempting jar of chunky crayons. Bottles of wine were half price, the lights were dim and typically a small acoustic jazz trio played in the corner. People came to have a drink, enjoy a conversation, make a connection.

We knew to head over each Thursday night around 8:30 after “Friends”. It started with just a few of us but we always invited others. Over the months the group expanded and diversified beyond anything we could have imagined. It became something to look forward to every Thursday - this was before texting or Facebook, so we just showed up and hung out with whoever was there. How’s it going? How did you hear about this? What’s happening at work? Tell me about the date last Friday night. Want to watch the game together this weekend? We connected in a simple but real way and our lives intertwined for those years.

Connection. It was, and still is, what gives my life meaning. Having the chance to meet face to face, to get to know someone and for them to get to know me. To hear one another’s stories about the amazing and the mundane. To laugh and argue or learn something new. Sometimes these connections are brief encounters, other times they turn into lifetime friendships. The venue may be a local bar, the break-room at work, or on the plane to your business meeting. But what is it that makes these connections authentic and meaningful?

Authenticity involves a raw-ness and vulnerability, no pretense or polish, a genuineness that creates trust. That trust allows you to be your real self and accept others for who they are. As you get to know and care for someone, you find yourself more open, humble and willing to be influenced by them - even when they have a different perspective or belief. This process of deep connection and influencing one another helps you become the best version of yourself - and that is powerful.

This kind of connection is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about when he said that, “all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Our potential as people and as a society - they are linked. But today we find ourselves more divided than ever: by class, race, religion and politics. Even with the incredible ways that technology and social media have enhanced our connectivity, they’ve also contributed to the bubbles we live in, where we only engage with the media, people and worldviews that we choose. Instead of openness and empathy, we end up cultivating arrogance and fear. Instead embracing our global neighbors and the rich cultural exchange available to us, we often ignore, marginalize or even make those who are different than us the enemy. 

These issues stem from a lack of authentic and meaningful connection to one another, and it’s why we started Ignite. At Ignite, We believe in the power of human connection, the ability to inspire through new relationships and the importance of striving to reach our full potential through personal and professional growth. I’m privileged to work for a company that, at the core, seeks to build connections between those who look and sound different, to facilitate learning from one another and to benefit each other’s communities. We aspire to develop global citizens who believe in the philosophy that “I am because we are.” We do this through purposeful journeys that inspire, connect and transform, and we believe that companies have the opportunity, even the obligation, to provide these types of shared experiences to their people - to be part of changing our world for the better.

But as an individual, I understand that today’s hyper-politicized climate can be discouraging, that the growing socio-economic divide seems impossible to turn around, and that it’s overwhelming to know where to start to make a positive difference. I say we begin by making authentic connections with the people who cross our paths. Take a break from connecting with your devices and instead connect with someone new or different. Engage them in a conversation, genuinely listen and learn. Allow their story and life to influence yours, and consider what it’s like to walk in their shoes. I can promise this makes for a more meaningful life journey… and chances are we’ll also create a better world for everyone.