If you’ve ever “clicked” with someone, you’re no stranger to the experience of meeting a new human and feeling an inexplicable bond after just a few short conversations. What forms an instant connection, though? Based off of experience we’ve had and some reading we’ve done, we’ve boiled down the the “click” to a few specific contributing factors:
First, connections often happen because of a shared identity or experience. Sometimes, they form when people stand on common ground - an issue they care about or involvement in the same organization or programming, for example. And third, (and unsurprisingly) a typical trend is that folks find quick companions through laughter - together as a pair, or within a group.
A couple of common myths? Experiencing this phenomenon is easier for people who are outgoing, or you have to share values or beliefs in order to create an instantaneous bond. Truthfully, neither of these could hurt, but they’re definitely not essential. What is essential is entering into new conversations feeling worthy of building new, strong relationships - with the desire to be authentic, honest, and vulnerable, and, of course, to be open to and encouraging of reciprocity from your new companion.
You probably already realized that alternative breaks are the quintessential place to make fast friends. Though we can’t explain the exact science behind this seemingly magical occurrence - we can speculate it’s because breakers are entering into trips with the intent of building new relationships, engaging in challenging conversations, and being open to humility and learning. With this awareness, we can consider (as executive board members, site leaders, or participants) how to either facilitate or partake in relationship building like this.
There’s a chance that you’ve made one or two of these connections unexpectedly, but if you enter into new spaces ready to exemplify the factors that help build immediate relationships, you may be surprised to find that the next “click” is likely the next hand you shake.
How would you act if you were visiting someone else's home? You may bring treats, you’d take your shoes off at the door, and you’d probably make your bed in the morning (even though you may scoff at the idea of actually making your own bed at home). You probably wouldn’t express distaste in their choice of decor, you would be reticent to crinkle your nose at an unfamiliar smell or taste. With respect to your friend and the space your friend calls home - you’d do everything in your power to be a good house guest.
Now, consider the impending visits you’ll be making on your alternative break.
We often prepare for alternative breaks with a self-serving lens: what’s the packing list, what articles should I be reading, can I sift through all the Facebook pictures of my potential new best friends, etc. (We know, we’ve been there too.) But the eagerness for the experience can often leave out the most important truth about the trip: We are visitors in a new place.
Being a human in a new space begets a shift in attitude - on an alternative break, students and staff have the opportunity to create an intentional shift. Rather than observing a community with an eye ready for critique and proposed solutions, we are compelled to thoughtfully enter with an eager sense to expand our own understanding, as we learn from and engage with a community that is not our own.
As you start to pack your bags and make those beloved road trip playlists, keep these ideas in mind. More than just the high anticipation of team-wide inside jokes and copious car snacks to be consumed, prepare yourself for a community-centered experience. Our goal is to invest in alternative break trips and enter communities with the humility to learn, observe, engage, and, most importantly, be the kind of house guest who’ll be invited back.
The word politics has come to imply profound differences in beliefs, unresolved disagreements, and passionate people left feeling frustrated or apathetic. Conversations with folks outside our political ideologies have suddenly become burdensome and often avoided altogether for the sake of keeping relationships amicable.
As alternative breakers and active citizens, we know that we can (and must!) reframe conflict into an opportunity for growth rather than attempting to avoid a potentially negative interaction. (Interested? Chapter schools, join us next week to hear more about using conflict to build relationships.) With this shift in our viewpoint, we can come to understand that we need different approaches to the troubles of the world and we need to share ideas and opinions to find the best possible solutions. We’re bound to encounter components of debate within the practice of dialogue, but we need to practice using our differences productively to build stronger communities and a stronger nation.
“The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.” - Barack Obama
Every single person is of worth in this democracy. No feelings or experiences are invalid. And while each of us has something to contribute to the growth of a community - the hard part is decentering ourselves to acknowledge that other perspectives deserve a place at the table, as well. If we find ways to hear others’ stories (regardless of what their beliefs are), we may be quicker to come to a common understanding and move forward to create better solutions for all people.
So take a step back from that scary word “politics” and embrace the notion that if you are a person inhabiting a space, (guess what - we all are) then you have something to contribute and you have a vital role to play in your community. The next time you find yourself venturing into a dialogue based on difference, try to speak from your feelings and experience and find ways to ask the opposing voice to speak from their feelings and lived experience too. Decenter yourself, listen to understand, and practice patience in finding (or solace in not finding) a solution, together.
Well-respected and irrefutable active citizen, Nelson Mandela once shared, “Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely daydreaming, but vision with action can change the world.” Action following intent may not be a brand new concept, but it’s important to return to this foundation when moving forward feels like an impossible feat.
A vision is a powerful statement - words strung together that create something for us to grab onto, a dream we can get behind. This is, however, only half of the equation. We’ve spoken to the need for a vision in the past: a completely student-led program, a program culture - based on values of justice - influencing your campus, or reaching a fully inclusive society.
We’re no stranger to the potency of words and ideas. We are emboldened by historic speeches of past social movements. We are moved when we witness stories of those wise and weathered leaders and activists among us. We soak up words of advice given from mentors or role models. It’s true: language that gives rise to a vision carries power. But it’s also true that words can only take us so far.
Once you’ve established a vision, or a dream of what you hope to accomplish, there’s a need to act - sometimes urgently, sometimes slowly and deliberately. Regardless of pace, one without the other holds a threat of emptiness.
Constant action isn’t easy and can often be exhausting. Creating systems of structure and support can be helpful in order to succeed. For example, identify your top three daily objectives (ensuring they’re SMART, of course) and ask a friend to help hold you accountable, join a group that meets regularly to discuss and take informed action around community identified needs, or follow a national platform that will give you ideas for action to meet a vision established by a movement.
Achieving your vision requires articulating intended outcomes and acting accordingly. Whether you’re a leader or a member of a group or movement - silence and inaction is a luxury, vision and action is power.