Connecting Through Co-Humanity Can Decrease Anxiety, Change Perceptions, Generate Trust, and Elicit Empathy
In our workshops, we use four words to underscore the importance of co-human experiences: trust, empathy, perceptions, and anxiety. Allow me to offer more detailed definitions of what we mean by that, starting with the Merriam-Webster dictionary designations:
Anxiety: Apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill.
Perception: A capacity for comprehension, a mental image.
Trust: Reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.
Empathy: The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.
Anxiety and Perceptions Go Hand in Hand
When people feel anxiety, it revolves around an anticipated ill. Anticipation requires imagination, which means that feelings of anxiety arise because of an imagined outcome based on the information that we have already gathered through our perception. When the information is wrong or our perception limited, we experience unnecessary anxiety.
For example, if you’ve never met a person of a particular faith or ideological disposition, then all you have to go on is your imagination and that is limited by your experiences, conversations, and quite often colored by the news or images you gather. Since news outlets primarily focus on the disruption of harmony, they serve as an unreliable source that can easily increase anxiety.
This is why anxiety and perceptions go hand in hand. In the same way that we need to taste a variety of fruits and sugary products to pinpoint the concept of sweetness, we need to interact with a variety of people to perceive our sense of co-humanity. Once we are able to modify our perceptions through direct interactions, we reduce levels of anxiety because we no longer anticipate based on incomplete information.
"I'll Have to Meet Him"
When it comes to trust, most people have developed fairly acute ways to measure honesty in personal interactions. It’s not an exact science, and some people are better at it than others, but, in general, human beings have the ability to read body language, tone of voice, use of words, and more, to gauge whether or not a person is being truthful.
While measuring truthfulness and trustworthiness is never easy, it is easier to do via personal interactions than from afar. For instance, how many times have you heard someone say: “This man seems nice enough, but I’ll have to meet him in person to see whether or not I can trust him.”
That is how direct co-human experiences can influence trust or lack thereof.
To be able to empathize, we need to attempt to see the world from other people’s perspectives. We may never be able to know exactly how another feels, but we can come close by trying to see the world from their point of view.
It goes without saying that it’s easier to imagine interior sensations after we’ve had face-to-face encounters. Looking at a picture or reading someone’s story can certainly be helpful, and I encourage that type of empathizing, but nothing really substitutes direct human-to-human contact.
Underlining the Importance of Co-Humanity
With these definitions in mind, it is easier to understand why we put such an emphasis on personal interactions. Co-human experiences have a transformational potential.
Rev. Gudjon Bergmann
Founder and Lead Educator at Harmony Interfaith Initiative
This article was adapted from my new book:
Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides
Ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building across divides.
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Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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