How we Connect

Walking together

With our pace anywhere from quick to ludicrous, as Mel Brooks would say, we tend to skim the surface of most things and situations. For many, this is a survival mechanism, until it becomes a habit and keeps us from the actual physical experience of living.

Sir Ken Robinson would quip that we use our bodies as transport systems for our heads. Charlie Munger would probably add we think too little, using our heads mostly as calculating apparatus.

We can tell our level of engagement and thinking from the type of questions we ask, including when we need help the most and are afraid, ashamed, and unable to do it. We want others “to see us once beautiful and brave,” as poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. But he preceded it with “perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting,” which means it is how we respond to the dire situations life throws at us that makes us beautiful and brave, not the problems themselves.

Asking or having something on offer is a way to connect.

More ways to connect

Filmmaker Werner Herzog and subject of Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin recently held a Reddit AMA [h/t Austin Kleon], which is a Q&A thread between a guest and the community. 

On reading and traveling by foot, which are two ways we connect, we says:

Well, I would say, reading is some kind of essential prerequisite to everything you do. Whether you are a scientist or a filmmaker, or just a normal human being working in a more “normal” profession. I cannot argue much about it. Read, read, read, read, read.

The other side, traveling on foot, nobody does it and what I said will disappear into thin air any moment from now. Traveling on foot has actually given me insight into the world itself. The world reveals itself to one who travel on foot. I can give you one example, you start to understand the heart of men.

I was, for a film, at the Johnson Space Center and had to take to five astronauts who had done a space mission in a space shuttle. I wanted to persuade them to be extras in the film in a very strange way. They were sitting in a semi circle when I was taken in and my heart sank that I didn't know “what should I say? what should I do?” I looked around and looked into their faces and all of a sudden I had the feeling, I understand these people. I understand the heart of these men and these women. I said “ since I was a child, when I learned how to milk a cow with my own hands, I can tell that since I've traveled on foot and in the meadow first you milk a cow to have something to drink. I know by looking at faces, who is able to milk a cow.” I looked at the pilot and said “you sir!” and he burst out in smiles and says “yes, I can milk a cow.”

Somehow when you make films, you understand the heart of men. In a way you cannot learn it, the world has to teach you. The world does it in it's most intense and deepest way when you when you encounter it by traveling on foot.

I'd like to add that when I travel by foot, I don't do it as a backpacker where you take all your household items with you, your tent, your sleeping bag, your cooking utensils. I travel without any luggage and I do not travel, let's say, the specific trail 2000 miles which is marked. I do traveling for very intense quests in my life. I do that on foot.

Reading on a variety of topics, reading from curiosity is important. The other part of it is writing what we think, about our experiences, as a method to process what we learn. On how to focus and connect with an idea and writing, Herzog says:

That's hard to answer, because I do not follow ideas; I stumble into stories, or I stumble into people who all of the sudden, the situation makes it clear that this is so big, I have to make a film. Very often, films come with uninvited guests, I keep saying like burglars in the middle of the night. They're in your kitchen, something is stirring, you wake up at 3 AM and all of the sudden they come wildly swinging at you.

So, I try to —it's not focusing on ideas, but I know exactly what the problem this is. Once you have an idea, it wouldn't help to sit down and keep brooding, brooding, brooding… just live on but keep it in the back of your mind all the time. Keep connecting little bits and pieces that belong to it. Sometimes it's only a word, sometimes half a line of dialogue, sometimes an image that you squiggle down. And when it kind of in this way materializes, then press yourself with urgency.

When I write a screenplay, I write it when I have a whole film in front of my eyes, and it's very easy for me, and I can write very, very fast. It's almost like copying. But of course sometimes I push myself; I read myself into a frenzy of poetry, reading Chinese poets of the 8th and 9th century, reading old Icelandic poetry, reading some of the finest German poets like Hölderlin. All of this has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of my film, but I work myself up into this kind of frenzy of high-caliber language and concepts and beauty.

And then sometimes I push myself by playing music; in my place it would be, for example, a piano concerto, and I play it and I type on my laptop furiously. But all of it is not a real answer, how do you focus on single idea; I think you have to depart sometimes, and keep it all the time alive somehow.

In essence, learn to ask the questions, and then pay attention as you live through life to uncover the answers. It's reminiscent of Rainer Maria Rilke's letter to a young poet, when we says:

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

In a metaphorical sense, we are all the young poet who has not had yet the experience of living, who is inundated by the ideology of choice —so many things to do, post, like, share— and unaware that it is the cause of maximum dissipation of our energy. 

This dispersion and fragmentation prevents us from maintaining a coherent self. When we reground ourselves, we engage in the process of living into the answers. When we start with a good question, we can write a good invitation to connect, for example. Because we do want to be the person whose emails and messages are worthy of attention and not just feel entitled to it or take it for granted as part of the promise of a frictionless system where personal agency has been smoothed out.

Another way to connect is by being thoughtful about connecting people. It's a scenario that involves good listening skills, and strong conversation skills. Both require focus and that we pay attention to the right things, likely what is happening right here, right now.

Here at Conversation Agent, we used to say, “Connecting ideas and people, how talk can change our lives.”



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