Jonathan Gruber -

Mar 16, 2022

We Can Relate: A primer on why and how we should invest in connection

Only a few years ago, elevating the power and promise of relationships as a vision for social change felt like an idealistic goal. When members of our team described human connection as the philanthropic focus of Einhorn Collaborative, we often heard a version of, “Huh, that’s… interesting.” The subtext was clear: this work is, at best, fuzzy and, at worst, a distraction from first-order imperatives to address people’s material needs, fix systems, and reform institutions.

Fast forward to today, and those imperatives remain, yet the importance of human connection has emerged as a topic of serious discussion. That’s in part because all of us have felt the acute absence of connection during the pandemic. It’s also a product of the many ways in which the crisis of connection wreaks havoc on people’s lives—at the individual level, in families and communities, in organizations, and in our politics. At the same time, it’s clear that relationships are an active ingredient in big leaps forward on most any pressing challenge, including the work of systems change, conflict transformation, and breakthrough business performance.

In partnering with nonprofits, researchers, and storytellers in a range of fields, Einhorn Collaborative has developed a holistic view of the case for human connection: why it matters, what it makes possible, and how to design for it. Our focus is on both bonding relationships with those like us and bridging relationships with those not like us. Both are crucial as people move through life and encounter many kinds of difference. Amidst the newly heightened awareness and urgency of human connection, we commissioned a primer on the topic that could inspire and equip people in a range of settings and sectors to put these ideas into action. The result is A Call to Connection: Rediscovering the Transformative Power of Relationships.

In initially converting this from the kernel of an idea into a concrete project, I was excited to think about how the work could reflect our long-held belief in the need for both science and stories in conveying the power of connection. For one thing, it’d be odd to talk about connection in esoteric or clinical terms; it’s part of our shared humanity and something we feel and experience. It’s also true that for some people, the science of connection may be uniquely compelling; for others, encountering vivid stories is far more persuasive.

As I puzzled through how to bring this idea to life in the collaborative spirit that’s become a hallmark of our “how,” two partners with complementary strengths came to mind: Sacred Design Lab and Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). By weaving together their different strengths, the Sacred Design Lab and GGSC teams have created a document that combines intellectual rigor and emotional resonance, age-old wisdom and practical guidance. It’s a joy to share it with our community.

Ways to engage with A Call to Connection

Just as A Call to Connection draws on multiple modes of thinking about the power of relationships, it also offers different ways to engage. We invite you to read it cover to cover, yet we know that time is in short supply (indeed, time pressure is one of the obstacles the primer names that gets in the way of connection). By design, the content is easy to navigate and interact with in bounded, purposeful bites.

For example, if you’re looking for evidence of the innate yearning humans have for connection and of the myriad benefits of relationships, check out “Why Connection Matters.

For grounding in the various challenges that short circuit our relational wiring and fuel the crisis of connection, What Gets in the Wayis illuminating.

If you’re seeking guidance for thinking about different kinds of connection in our everyday lives, spend time with Three Stances: Bonding, Bridging, and Healing

Cultures of Connection offers several vignettes, woven through the document, which show what authentic connection looks and feels like in a range of real-life settings.

In the Reflection sections along the way, you’ll find prompts to spark personal reflection and shared conversation about prioritizing connection in the roles and settings you inhabit.

Perhaps most important, Practices to Cultivate a Culture of Connection offer inspiration and ideas for seven concrete steps you can take to foster connection with those around you.

No matter how you engage with A Call to Connection, I hope it sparks reflection and conversation – maybe even new commitments—about how you might contribute to the culture of connection we urgently need to build.

In the final section, lead author Casper ter Kuile poses a provocative question that invites each of us to be part of this urgent, long-term work. He writes: “If we aren’t actively strengthening the thing that makes life meaningful, the web of connection that keeps us safer and helps us thrive, the foundation from which society itself arises, what on earth are we doing?”

Casper’s poetic closing is an invitation to us all:

“So, may these stories accompany us as reminders that a different way is possible.

May the research give us confidence in our inherent capacity to connect.

May the practices offer pathways ahead when we feel stuck, or alone.

May the awareness of potential obstacles sharpen our resolve.

And, may the wisdom of our forebears and the richness of our own relationships embolden us to put connection at the heart of all things.”

Jon Gruber leads Einhorn Collaborative’s Building strategy. Learn more about our work in Building and more about Jon. Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter and be the first to read Jon’s blog posts.