America, unlike most of the world, suffers from isolation. Our country is isolated physically and our people are isolated emotionally. Our puritanical roots have taught us to revere independence and as a culture we believe that raising a child to be independent is the best thing we could do as a parent.
All this emphasis on breeding independence, however, has led to the inability to create interdependence, which is really the act of purposely seeking out and engaging in healthy connection with a community.
Here’s Why We Have Trouble Connecting: The United States is not a relationship-based culture and that’s why we have trouble connecting to each other. Collectively, as a society, we value doing things on our own more than asking for help. This truism is mirrored in gender bias (ie: men never ask for directions) and perpetuated by this notion of a do-it-yourself, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, and go-out-there-and-get-what-you-want American Dream. It’s what has made America the land of opportunity and what has made Americans the most overworked, overweight, over-medicated, and over-anxious people in the world.
Here’s What We Can Do About It:
- First, if you’ve ever felt alone, know that you’re not alone. A lot of people feel alone and are wondering: Am I doing this whole living, working, and raising a kid thing right?
- Second, we have to learn how to seek out the right community. We need to form relationship with people who share the same value system as us but also challenge us to learn to relate to one another in a new way.
- Third, we need to teach our kids how to do the same. Children are great at making friends and forming their own little communities. But it’s when competition and lack of respect for a differing viewpoint creeps in that we learn to devalue a community because it’s different.
Community simply brings us together and makes us feel less alone. We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how hard we try. I am certainly a testament to this realization, ’cause darn it I’ve tried my hardest to go it alone and it just doesn’t work out as well as I had envisioned!
Children know this intuitively. Before we grew up and became the independent adults we are, we were able to make friends most anywhere. Jerry Seinfeld has great insight into this idea:
Teaching our Students to Rely on Others is a Good Thing
School is its own community, but it hasn’t traditionally been that great for teaching our students how to develop community and rely on each other for help. This is evident in our teaching models, where the emphasis is on working independently towards an expectation or developing competition by taking a test that measures where a student stands in relation to his or her peers. And when students are struggling, that’s where isolation becomes more of a factor in their success story than we may realize.
Because I work with students who are struggling in school, it is clear that much of their anxiety is perpetuated by the standards that they feel they are unable to live up to. Whether that be a grade they wanted but didn’t achieve or a part in the play they tried out for but didn’t get, they come to me with overwhelming feelings of loneliness that affects how well they do in school. They feel alone because they feel unsuccessful; they feel unsuccessful because they are not a member of the particular community they want to be in. They are taught by us, however, to squash their disappointment in favor of putting on a brave face and moving on to the next thing. We need to let our students know that it’s okay to stew a little bit. It’s okay to feel sad because we aren’t a part of the group. This is natural.
Biologically we are wired to feel empathy because the brain is a social organ. Too often we learn to suppress empathy in favor of independent achievement. When we discredit or discount our disappointment and try to “go it alone”, we are really going against our natural instincts — to reach out to others for help.
When a student is a part of a healthy community, however, they feel better about themselves because whatever struggles they may have, they know they don’t have to go it alone. They know they can always reach out for help. That’s the beauty of teaching our children, our students, that community should be valued. It’s not just a lesson for kids, but a life-long one that we adults need to revisit too.
Take a look at what Dr. Louis Cozolino, Psychologist and Author of several books on neuroscience, including “The Social Neuroscience of Education, Optimizing Attachment & Learning in the Classroom”, has to say about how our brains are wired for social connection.
Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.