Desire isn't just an idea. It is a movement within us drawing us towards some value or experience or person.
This drawing, like water into the porous membrane of a sponge, is the activity of connection.
You walk into a room at a business after hours event. You register, get you name tag, and turn around and look at the crowd. Who are you looking to meet? Who is looking to meet you?
We are drawn towards particular kinds of people. What is it that us draws to them?
You sign up for an online dating service, and out of the dozens of possibilities, one person jumps off the page. Why this person?
What draws us towards this one individual rather than another?
Why can we talk about the synergy between two people who only met two minutes ago? What is it that draws us into relationships where we are prepared to trust, to be vulnerable and change our business plan immediately?
It is the intangible nature of human desire. It is beyond rational. It really isn't subrational, but rather supra-rational. It is beyond explanation. It falls into the realm of faith.
What is it about the connection of human desire that causes us to flee the safety of the fortress to venture out into the unknown to discover what lay in our heart's desire all along.
Many refer to this as a call, a voice that constantly beckons them onward, to risk all for the sake of that source of passion deep within us that refuses to be quiet.
This is the magic that happens between two people or within a team when they stop playing the game of control and risk management, and pursue a call they share to make a difference that matters.
In other words, it is love that draws us together. The love of ideas, of people and of the change that we can create together. This is the desire that lies deep within us that calls us to accept and honor its all or nothing demand upon our lives.
The People We are Drawn Toward
At a most basic level, we are drawn toward two kinds of people.
One type are those who affirm or validate who we are. They are like us or complement us by helping us see the inherent value of who we are. These relationships appreciate us for who we are right now. These are family and friends with whom we have happy moments each day.
Often these are people we've known a long time and with whom, even if we are very different in personality, we feel comfortable because of our shared life experiences together. These are people with whom we share similar values. These are our peeps.
The second kind are those people for whom we feel a kind of longing. This longing is to be different, better, fulfilled, complete, or known for some facet of our lives that the first group cannot see. These people set a standard for their life and work that we view as higher or more ambitious, and therefore is desirable. We desire relationships with them, hoping that some of their magic will rub off on us. We desire what we think they have. More than anything, we want their respect, and a connection to them.
These relationships may not be with people that we know or with whom we spend most of our time. The relationship may be virtual as on Facebook or Twitter. A connection is made when they like a link that we post. A social media connection with this person fulfills a longing for association with someone whom we perceive to be the person we wish to be in the future. These persons symbolize for us the values that matter to us, that may seem beyond our reach, yet live down deep within us as the desires that we have for our life and work.
We need both of these kinds of relationships. However, neither speaks to the character of the relationship, only to a type of relationship.
The character of our relationships matter. I thought of this when I came across this selection from the Diary of Anais Nin.
"The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters. meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision."
She could easily be describing the relationships that many of us have through social media platforms. We desire connection. But too often it is superficial, lacking depth.
What then does it mean to have relationships of depth? This is the kind of relationship that I wrote about in my post Still Waters Still Flow. There I write,
"Am I setting up an impossible scenario for our relationships? Of course I am! For without a standard, an ideal, or a vision of the highest in human experience, then there is no clear direction to the flow of our lives.
When the love I describe becomes complete within us, and seeks out others who also have found a completeness in the love within them, then a depth of relationship results that changes us. We are transformed by loving, not simply by the idea of love.
All these human characteristics that we celebrate and honor, like Respect, Trust, Confidence, Responsibility, Courage, Empathy and Self-sacrifice find a ground upon which to grow. For ultimately, flow rises from our own capacity to be the person we wish others to be.
I wish I could say that all this can come without pain or suffering but it can't. In fact, it is the very comforts of our modern life that stand in the way of a fulfilled, complete and flourishing life. Those comforts present the appearance of strength and completeness. But too often they are the curtain that blinds us to harsher realities of the world.
For still waters to run deep requires the dredging of the stream bed of our lives to remove all those barriers to flow. The more courageous, the more willing we are to raise the standards of our life and work, the more willing we are to be committed to do the hard work of changing our lives, the more willing we are to defy fear, and move into unknown territories of discovery, the more we will discover that still waters still flow bringing peace into a world of conflict."
For these kinds of relationship to flourish requires a setting or an environment for our relationships to grow. Increasingly, I'm convinced that this is difficult to achieve when the relationship is only in a virtual context.
Digital or Analog, Virtual or ... ?
What do we call the setting of relationships that are not virtual, that exist outside of an online digital social space? To say they are analog, physical or real does not capture it well. What are our relationships that exist where we live, with whom we encounter in physical proximity to one another.
Lacking an adequate terminology, I've decided to use a sacramental term that Presbyterians and other Protestant Christians use to describe the relationship of God to the eucharist, the sacramental meal that Christians observe in worship. That term is Real Presence.
I'm using real presence in a non-religious way. It is the relationship that develops between people who find their life and work connected at a deeper level of meaning and impact than with other people. The result is that they are drawn together in such a way that the traditional social media platforms are an insufficient for the purpose of the relationship. In other words, they find they need to be in physical proximity to one another often enough to advance their relationship's purpose.
To be really present, requires us to be open and vulnerable, attentive and willing to adapt to each opportunity as it appears. Real presence is living each day with intention and commitment. I realize that these are familiar words to people today. The challenge is not knowing the meaning of these words, but deriving our meaning of life from living them each day.
There are many people that I've met online with whom we now have a relationship of real presence. We are constantly in touch with the living our of our lives. We are not simply observing and commenting in a detached manner. Our relationships to one another matter. As a result, we are drawn to be with one another in a physical sense. And so we make the effort to travel to be with one another.
Let me return to my question from above. Why is it that we connect with some people and not others? Is it because the place where we meet and develop our relationships is conducive for the kind of relationship we seek? Is it because there are certain values that we share that can flourish in either a virtual or a physical context?
This is a complex question. To understand it we must understand ourselves. To understand ourselves demands that we understand the kinds of environments that are most conducive to making the kind of connections that we truly desire.
This is an important question because so many of our connections are virtual, operating only within a digital context. Yet, we are not virtual people, digitized, pixelated images or text narratives on a screen. We are embodied persons whose whole selves experience the movement of desire flowing through us.
Developing Platforms for Desire
We are at the beginning point in the evolution of the digital world. What it will be in a decade or in fifty years is pure speculation.
I am convinced that because we are desiring beings (James K A Smith's term), that the structure of society and organizations ultimately adapt to who we are. It is never smooth, however.
Today, we are at the end of the industrial era, without real clarity about what is to follow. Current global social and political forces are aligned to avoid change as much as possible. Resistance to human evolution is futile. And at the heart of our evolution as a species is the drive our desires for meaning, healthy relationships and lives of impact.
As a result, there will always be a tug-of-war between those forces that seek to control the evolutionary course, and those who choose the freedom to adapt to change as it presents itself each day.
As social media platforms develop, change and die, new platforms will emerge to meet the opportunities that come from human social interaction. The challenge for the developers of these platforms as I've said previously in this series, is not really how to monetize the platform, but rather how maximize the ability of people of shared desires to collaborate to make a difference that matters. The mousetrap has been invented. Now is the time to make a better mousetrap.
There is much more that can be said about the relation of human desire to the virtual online world. For now, this is sufficient.