Starting anything can be a challenge. You have to go from a state of not doing to one of doing – to overcome inertia and the urge to just stay in the same place. This explains why there are so many people who remain in the same old job, the same old relationship and the same old you name it. As bad as current conditions might be, the effort to do something new has to be justified by our realization of just how bad our situation is.
Of course, there is more to it than just inertia, which by itself is bad enough. There is a fear of the unknown – of stumbling into something or dealing with someone that might cause problems or even be dangerous. In most social situations, however, our fear isn’t always of some kind of bodily harm. It could instead be an avoidance of experiencing the awkwardness and embarrassment of interacting with people who might not accept you – who simply might not like you and reject you as a person.
It’s funny how sensitive so many of us can be as to how we are treated. Maybe it produces a certain low-level anxiety about our place in the social order of things. Being spurned or shunned may give us a feeling that we have no support from those around us, leaving us with a sense of being vulnerable. It may be that as long as we don’t know for sure that others will reject us, we can hold onto the slender thread of hope that the world isn’t as bad a place as we fear it is.
That unknowing, however, is really not all that comforting. We actually can’t take solace in our solitude, even though we might try to convince ourselves that we are better off not knowing without a doubt that we can’t depend on others.
But there are other reasons we may avoid people. We may feel that they aren’t worth knowing. They may seem boring, self-absorbed and incapable of providing us with even a few moments of engaging conversation. The first question we may ask is “what’s in it for me?” or “what am I going to get out of this?” Seeing the world in terms of what benefits you exclusively without considering what you might have that could benefit others leaves you with a fairly small circle of acquaintances. Ideally it is what’s mutually beneficial that creates the basis of a solid relationship with others.
But all of that lies outside our reach if we aren’t willing to break the ice – to expand our comfort zone to include that which has in the past made us uncomfortable. We have to weigh the cost of doing so against the cost of doing nothing. And we have to face the possibility that our initial forms of outreach may yield little.
In the end, though, the rewards of reaching out are only attainable when there’s someone out there to reach. If we’re surrounded by people who are afraid of trying to establish some kind of connection with others – if they feel it isn’t worth it or even possible — they will not be dependable partners in this process. This is where many of us find ourselves unfulfilled in our search for life beyond the four walls of our exile. There’s no such thing as a community of one.
Perhaps, however, regardless of whether we find others with whom we might collaborate right away, we need to look at the problem differently. If we break the ice but the water remains frigid, the ice will form again quickly. If, on the other hand, we warm the water, we can melt the ice, removing the barrier not with the force of our will but rather with the radiance of our love. And so, it would seem that the real key is not changing our actions but altering our attitudes – softening our hearts, unclenching our minds and rising above our petty concerns on a tide of compassion.
Could this change of attitude become contagious? Will it spread to the hearts of those around us? We can hope, of course, but maybe what’s most important is that we find a way to allay our own fears and realize that even as many around us appear to be caught in the frozen grip of their apprehensions, our eyes and our hearts will be opened so that we can see and meet those others with whose warmth we can combine our own and in so doing change the world in a small way that eventually sends out wider ripples.