My new mentor has had a life motto for many years:
“I always tell people, ‘I’ll only drop your hand if you drop mine,'” he says, meaning that unless you’d prefer not to stay in contact for some reason, he will stay connected in relationship with you for life. Every time I’ve sat down with him, he has said that statement at one point or another in our conversation.
What he says is true, by the way. He keeps in touch quite intentionally with hundreds of people, many of whom are former students from the years when he was a youth group leader, a campus minister, and the headmaster of a Quaker school. He’s been in touch with some of them for fifty years. It’s a big network.
We may not have a network that deep and wide, or a network with so much longevity, but we do have a network. We are connected.
And we should not forget what a resource this is, or rather, a resource of resources. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as I consider justice work and organizing. We can hear about needs nationally, internationally, and in our neighborhoods and feel the weight of them as solitary units, perhaps scrolling through social media at a loss about what to do or how to act. Or we can let things move through our connected network of relationships.
I heard a really important story on the radio while driving in my car earlier this week. A medical student at the University of Michigan has started a community effort with online and in-person components that empowers medical students, medical residents, and physicians to talk about stress and their own mental health needs. The medical community has the highest rate of suicides of all professions in the United States, and there is still a great deal of mental health stigma within this community. This student recognized how many physicians are struggling in silence and began to wonder what sort of large-scale impact could be created if physicians were reframing mental health stigma themselves.
I passed this story onto eight medical people in my network, and it led to really important discussions. They’ll probably pass it on too.
Change happens just this way, through relationships. And you never know what you’ll catalyze when you let things move through the network. We all have one.