Last month I had the pleasure of attending the annual convention of Toastmasters international where nearly two thousand people gathered. I had the chance to observe how much our lives are intertwined into a network of relationships that covers the globe. I had the chance to interact with individuals from several countries--Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Curaçao, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Kingdom as well as the United States. People approached me to comment on my presentation, to talk about their Toastmasters experiences, and to share their hopes, ambitions, and dreams. It was exciting to greet friends and meet other people that are "part of the main."
Though both you and I are part of the whole, we remain strangers to each other until we have the chance to meet and connect. But how is it that two strangers connect to form and maintain a meaningful relationship--whether both be from Toledo or one from Taiwan and the other from Tobago? They must have a desire to connect. That desire sparks curiosity--a curiosity which can only be satisfied by opening oneself up. Only by opening yourself can you reach beyond yourself to connect with another individual.
Open your heart. When your heart is open, you expose the fear of the unknown and of strangers to the light of curiosity. The presence of fear will inhibit connection. Fear must be replaced with interest and/or concern to initiate a relationship with someone you don't know.
Open your mind. When your mind is open, you have the room to receive and accept knowledge. You avoid prejudging the person you have not yet gotten to know. Prejudice inhibits connection. With an open mind, you will allow a person to reveal his or her identity rather than creating in your mind what you want them to be or think they should be.
Open your ears. When your ears are open, you offer up an invitation for the individual to share. One-way communication will not allow connection. There is no point to a relationship that doesn't offer a two-way exchange of ideas, beliefs, expectations, and feelings.
Open your arms. When your arms are open, you signal your willingness to accept. An embrace strengthens connection. You may cross your arms and tolerate what is different, but a meaningful connection cannot occur.
Open your gifts. When your gifts are open, you can share them with whomever you meet. The joy of connection comes from giving to benefit someone else. We may network to get tangible things such as clients, customers, leads, or other opportunities to make or save money, but we connect for the intangibles. No matter who you meet, where they are from, and what their station in life, they can use the intangibles that you have to give--a smile, comfort, encouragement, laughter, knowledge, joy, peace, love. You can give as much as possible and still keep them for yourself.
Open your mouth. When your mouth is open, you can express your thoughts and feelings. Silence can destroy connection. In your relationships, you must be free to express your pain, displeasure, or offense as well as your achievements and dreams. However, you must do so in a way as to not cause pain, displeasure, or offense to another.
Open your eyes. When your eyes are open, you can see through disingenuousness. Insincerity cannot connect. All smiles are not friendly; some are conniving or self-serving. This fact should not be cause for shutting down and letting fear keep you from opening yourself up. It suggests that you should keep your eyes open along with your heart, mind, ears, arms, and gifts.
What I enjoyed and accomplished at the Toastmasters convention was made possible by connections I made prior to the convention. I went with a group of friends who agreed to serve as a team with me. They accompanied me and assisted with transportation, set-up, sales, and technical support. They made my task of presenting easy and facilitated my interacting with other convention participants. The five hundred or so members of the audience had direct contact with me, and so we now can see how our lives are intertwined. Though may not be aware of it, the participant's lives are also intertwined with the lives of Don, Pam, Arlene, and Lorene, the members of my team.
I needed help from my friends because of my blindness. I've come to realize that everyone, especially convention presenters, should have a supporting team such as I had even if they do not have a physical disability. I am glad that my blindness put me in a position to learn the value of connections in all aspects of my life. I encourage you to recognize and appreciate the value of the relationships you hold.