Elizabeth Edwards’ Secret Weapon

Elizabeth Edwards walked that fine feminist line between being a generous, caring, supportive individual and, at the same time, not taking s – – t from anyone.   She had a secret weapon–better yet, a suit of armor.  I met her at a book-signing of Saving Graces, which came out in 2006 when I was researching my book. Her subtitle–Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers–says it all.  This was a woman who cried with a stranger she met in a ladies’ room, who appreciated the checkout guy and the mailman, who shared her grief with strangers on the Internet.  In short, she appreciated, depended upon, and sought out the empathy of others.   Even more important, she knew how vital it was to return the favor.   The September evening  I met her,  I had arranged a brief hello with her publicist, explaining that I wanted to interview her because, whether she had used the term or not, her book was mostly about consequential strangers.  I was first to approach the podium after her talk.

I stood there at first as a journalist and had planned to tell her a little about my project.  But as I handed her a book to sign, I blurted out that my family had just suffered a terrible tragedy.  My great nephew, my sister’s first grandson, had drowned in her pool. At 14, he was already an amazing and versatile athlete, so no one realized he was in trouble.  (Later, we would learn he had a heart condition and that no one could have saved him anyway.) I told her I wanted to give her book to his parents. “So could you please inscribe it to Heidi and Louis?”

“”Oh, dear, I’m so sorry.  When did this happen?” she asked, acting as if no one else was in the room.  It wasn’t fake empathy.   In that moment, I could feel–and her eyes confirmed–that she truly cared and felt my pain. Continue Reading »

Social Movements Need Strong and Weak Ties

(Note:  This was published first as a feature on Shareable.)

Recently, I asked an American woman whether she’d moved to Paris in 1952 because she’d fallen in love with a Frenchman. Without missing a beat, she said, “It’s a little more complicated than that.

The same could be said of the conclusion in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Small Change,” a piece in which he questions the value of social media-based activism:

…[It is] simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger.

It’s a little more complicated than that. Life isn’t lived in the “either/or” extremes.  Today’s social campaigns are not waged on the Internet or off. It’s all of a piece–a “both/and” phenomenon. Modern activists are no different from TV producers, merchants, educators, scientists, sufferers or patients. Social media is but one of the ways they connect. Continue Reading »

Four Reasons to Thank Everyone in Your Life

Thanksgiving is a time to be with loved ones and to reflect on all the caring and support we have in our lives.  But what about people who aren’t in the room but who share slices of your life and who have contributed, in great and small ways, to the fabric of your life? Continue Reading »

Psychic Sharing: Done Best with a CS!

This, one of my columns for Shareable: Sharing by Design, was published there today.  I strongly recommend that you explore that site as well as this one, as both are devoted to ideas for a more socially-conscious world.

A recent call from a old collaborator reminded me of the importance of “psychic sharing.” Often, when we think of sharing, it’s around something material and measurable, like saving money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are also undeniable benefits to shouldering a burden, a problem, or, in the case of my phone call, a creative endeavor. The end product, be it a fresh solution or groundbreaking idea, is never what you thought it would be. It turns out to be something neither of you could have imagined, or executed, alone–something better, because two minds trump one.

In the past, I’d written three books with this man. Our respective roles were typical of 20th century collaborations: he the expert, and I the writer. I was his “with.” Now he wanted something different: to write a book together, as equals.

His personal reasons aside, psychic sharing is in the zeitgeist. And why not? The Internet has made it easier to Continue Reading »

The Making of “The Relationship Revolution”

A week ago, “The Relationship Revolution,” the lead story in the September/October issue of The Psychotherapy Networker , was finally published (online and IRL).  The piece has been in the works for nine months, because the story kept changing.  Tech is moving so fast that trying to capture it is like taking an action shot on a slow shutter speed.  Also, my editor, fairly new to the Internet and social media when we first talked, kept changing his vision of where he wanted the article to take readers.  “Up the mountain” was how he kept putting it. Continue Reading »

Rosh Hashona Reflections & Humor

A friend sent me this via email, and I thought I’d pass it on.  I wrote about Tashlich in the fall of 2008, as I put the final finishing touches on the manuscript.   I had never planned to write an Epilogue to the book, but the Universe has a funny way of guiding us.    You can read that (more serious but joyful) story here.   Or if you just want a chuckle, read on… Continue Reading »

Close Encounters of the Best Kind

I love the relationship I have with Reggie, who owns this summer resort town’s only grocery store. I don’t know much about him–not even his last name. And yet, I’ve eaten his mother’s cooking and the other day, briefly met his wife. We see each other anywhere from four to six weeks a year, depending on how much time I spend on Fire Island. We share moments, not events.

As is true of most consequential stranger relationships, Reggie and I couldn’t be more different. Continue Reading »

Social Strategies for Hard Times

An artist I saw recently on the nightly news had her own studio–but no one was buying.  When people are worried about putting food on the table and health insurance, the artist realized, paintings aren’t usually in their budget.  “But at least,” she told the reporter, “I hope that my old customers will still drop by if only to chat.”

When economics define hard times, it’s important to remind ourselves to take pleasure in the non-material reward of connecting with others.  It doesn’t pay the bills, but it can help alleviate the stress. And stress, as we all know, makes us more susceptible to illnesses, which then makes a bad situation worse.  Researchers put the risks associated with social isolation right up there with smoking and obesity. Continue Reading »

CS: The Paperback

It’s official:  The paperback version of Consequential Strangers will be available on July 26.    Look for a new subtitle, a new cover, and new cover quotes.  You saw all here first!  I’m on the road for the next few weeks and won’t be sharing much here.

A Cure for Loneliness?

I thought about the work of neuropsychologist John Cacioppo, co-author, with William Patrick of Loneliness: The New Science of Human Connection as I watched this video put out by the Mental Health Foundation in Great Britain, which highlights the findings of a new study, The Lonely Society.

The antidote for loneliness is to connect with consequential strangers.  Having a “tribe,” John told me when I interviewed him for the book, is the flip side of social isolation.  All of us experience loneliness at times, but it is most dramatic–and we are most vulnerable–during major life transitions when a dependable “circle of support” is disrupted. In this film, for example, the woman lost her CS at work when she had a baby. Continue Reading »