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How Can we Strengthen Our Connections to One Another?

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

Last month, I wrote about umbuntu, the idea that we exist in connection to one another and that if we truly adopted that mindset, we would make very different choices in the ways we live and come up with very different solutions to social ills. I’ve continued to ponder that, which is why I was so taken recently by an excerpt I read from Johann Hari’s TED talk, “Everything You Know about Addiction is Wrong”. Read on to see the connection:

“Get a rat and put it in a cage and give it two water bottles. One is just water, and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself very quickly, right, within a couple of weeks. So there you go. It’s our theory of addiction.

“Bruce [K. Alexander] comes along in the ’70s and said, “Well, hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do. Let’s try this a little bit differently.” So Bruce built Rat Park, and Rat Park is like heaven for rats. Everything your rat about town could want, it’s got in Rat Park. It’s got lovely food. It’s got sex. It’s got loads of other rats to be friends with. It’s got loads of colored balls. Everything your rat could want. And they’ve got both the water bottles. They’ve got the drugged water and the normal water. But here’s the fascinating thing. In Rat Park, they don’t like the drugged water. They hardly use any of it. None of them ever overdose. None of them ever use in a way that looks like compulsion or addiction….

“[W]hat Bruce’s study shows that both the right-wing and left-wing theories of addiction are wrong…. [T]he right-wing theory is it’s a moral failing, you’re a hedonist, you party too hard. The left-wing theory is it takes you over, your brain is hijacked. Bruce says it’s not your morality, it’s not your brain; it’s your cage. Addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment.

“We’ve created a society where significant numbers of our fellow citizens cannot bear to be present in their lives without being drugged, right? We’ve created a hyper-consumerist, hyper-individualist, isolated world that is, for a lot of people, much more like that first cage than it is like the bonded, connected cages that we need.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. And our whole society, the engine of our society, is geared towards making us connect with things, not people. If you are not a good consumer capitalist citizen, if you’re spending your time bonding with the people around you and not buying stuff—in fact, we are trained from a very young age to focus our hopes and our dreams and our ambitions on things we can buy and consume. And drug addiction is really a subset of that.”

Let that sink in for a minute. The opposite of addiction is connection. Perhaps, after a year plus of social distancing, we can all understand the truth of this a bit more vividly. Neuroscientists say we are hardwired to connect to one another. For our own mental health, for the health of our families and society in general, for the earth itself, how can we strengthen our connections to one another? To truly live from our interconnectivity? To turn towards one another, not away or against? We must find new ways to build together.

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