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This past Thanksgiving, we gathered at our daughter-in-law’s home for dinner. The small gathering included my wife and I, both of our sons along with their wives, our one (and so far, only) granddaughter, two cats, and four dogs. The atmosphere was warmly chaotic. As dinner was preparing, various members of the family, both four-legged and two, drifted in and out of the kitchen, chattering or scrounging for snacks or both. Others helped with the various dishes. That is, until the head chef and hostess shooed everyone out unless they were specifically summoned because there were too many butts in a one-butt kitchen.
The conversations continued; small babbling brooks flowing first one way and then another; encountering topics like stones. Rising and ebbing as interest and excitement surged or abated.
As the adults chattered, our two-year-old granddaughter, Addy, systematically organized her own little dinner party. Grabbing her uncle by the hand, she brought him to the napkins, laid out the carpet as a table, and shared cups of “joose!” and small plastic plates of “kookies!” Every utterance an exclamation that brooked no disagreement as in, “Unca Dan! Have joose!”
Looking around, Addy demands to know, “Where Anty Marlee!?” And off she goes to bring anty Marlee to sit next to unca Dan and “Have Kooky!” In her world, seldom do things occur in isolation. Everyone and everything is connected. If uncle Dan is around, then auntie Marlee must surely be nearby. If Papa comes through the door, there is a squeal of excitement and a hug followed by a demand, “Where Meemaw?!” Followed closely by, “Where Buddy?!” Our chihuahua.
Children instinctively understand what adults forget; that communication and connection are two sides of one coin. Or should be. Communication without connection is as devoid of true meaning as were the shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave. Connection without communication is impossible.
Aristotle suggested that everything connects to everything else. One cannot become perfect in isolation, in the same way as a pen or a car cannot develop their full potential without the right environment. The pen or car cannot do what it was designed to do unless it is connected to someone skilled in its use. In Aristotelian ethics: We can only reach our full potential together with others. This becomes nowhere as clear as in the social circles that we build around ourselves: a family member can only flourish if the rest of the family flourishes. We do this through a combination of loving and caring connection communicated with words, touch, or even a look. When mommy gathers up her daughter, smothers her with kisses and hugs, and exclaims, “Do you know how much Mommy loves you?!” she communicates and connects on the deepest, most powerful level. Even as her daughter squirms free to return to her tea party, she replies, “Mmhmm.” The connection is affirmed and communicated. When Daddy swoops her up to his shoulders for a squealing, breathless run, the love, and caring is communicated. The circle is complete.
The babble and chuckle of brooks merged, connected, and became a small pond as we finally gathered at the dining table to join hands in prayer and thanksgiving.