As I listened to the news this evening I was sickened, as I’m sure you were, by the senseless tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. By the offenses and then cover-ups at Penn State. By the deaths of people packed into a truck to be smuggled across the border by criminals who were as careless as they were mercenary. I was reminded, as we all are every day, that not every member of the human race is worthy of our trust.
As a person who has spent a great deal of my free time over the last few years encouraging you to reach out and try to connect with people, I feel a responsibility to remind you that you must be careful. To remind you that trust has to be earned—painstakingly earned over time. It is, and always should be, a slow, natural build up of respect and credence, every bit of which has to be earned by actions and real-world verification.
The process of extending trust must never be short-circuited by flattering words, affected manners or nice sounding but unverified stories or claims. Part of the slow process of building trust has to include getting let into the various aspects of the person’s life. Their circle of friends. Where they work. Their family. People who know them and give that all-important element of verifiability to the persona they are presenting to you.
Having said that, let me also say that while we need to be careful we do not need to be paralyzed with paranoia. We cannot be naive; neither can we be invariably cynical. We have to be realists. We have to realize that there are all kinds of people in the world. There are wonderful, decent, honorable people and there are the opposite.
The problem is the people in that second group don’t tell us that. They try to convince us they are in the first group. Some of them are pretty convincing. In fact, they are all pretty convincing. That’s why we have to be careful and let trust build up naturally over time with actions instead of words and verifiability instead of flattery. Otherwise, you don’t really know the person; you only know the persona. And that’s just not enough.
In my last post I wrote about what I call the Human Relations Paradox. The fact that the tighter we get packed into cities the more psychological distance we put between ourselves. I ended that post with the promise that I would tell you how you can remove that psychological distance.
The first thing you have to know is that the distance is artificial. Our minds seem to be able to know and interact with a very limited number of people. Far less than the tens of thousands of people we brush by in the normal course of living in a crowded city. The psychological distance is a coping mechanism. A good thing normally.
And since it is a contrivance, we can uncontrive it any time we want to. Both parties know the distance isn’t really there, so when one of them ignores it, the other one usually does too. That’s all it takes. Just refuse to recognize it.
For example, imaging a girl standing next to a guy on a crowded commuter train. They are so close they are almost touching but might as well be a thousand miles apart. The guy looks at her and says, “Pardon me. I need to buy my sister a gift and… do you mind if I ask what scent that is you are wearing?”
Suddenly they are not a thousand miles apart. They are right next to each other. Boy. Girl. Looking and talking to each other. Interacting with each other as human beings. She now notices he is kind of cute. He notices she has a bit of an accent he can’t quite place. They are both enjoying the commute more than they were five minutes ago.
Think of all those psychological distances as fragile bubbles. They serve a purpose and if left untouched, they will last forever. But when there is a higher purpose, like you want to meet the person in the bubble, you can pop it by simply acting like it is not there.
Of course, you have to do this sparingly and always with tact, politeness and charm. You have to have a legitimate sounding reason to ignore a bubble like the gift for the sister in the example. You can’t just pick a person and start acting like you are old friends.
For most of us, this will take some courage. It is so much easier to just stand there and read a newspaper or fiddle with a phone. But that is not what human beings were made for. We were made to interact with each other in the real world. We were made to make and foster and enjoy real relationships.
So let those bubbles serve their purpose most of the time. But when they can serve a higher purpose by disappearing, know how to make that happen.
Imagine that you are a scientist doing research in the Kalahari desert. You have been told there are probably no other humans around for hundreds of miles. Suddenly, a glint of reflected sunlight catches your eye. It seems to have come from several miles away.
You grab your binoculars and check it out. It appears to be a person walking towards you. When the person gets close enough you wave to get their attention. They wave back. Twenty minutes later he is within hearing distance and you yell “Hello” and “Welcome” hoping he understands. He yells back “Hello” and you both smile broadly.
You leave your campsite and walk toward him so you can greet him a few minutes sooner. When you meet you spontaneously shake hands and hold the clasp after the shaking stops. You exchange names and backgrounds. Later, back in your camp, you share lunch and exchange small gifts and email addresses so you can stay in touch. You have made a friend you hope to have the rest of your life.
Now imagine yourself on a crowded commuter train. The hundreds of people on your car read newspapers and listen to MP3 players while expertly avoiding eye contact. You don’t notice that the person you are pressed against has a bandage over her left eye. You don’t notice that one of the texts she received made her smile. It never occurs to you that the last human voice you heard was the previous day when you were listening to the evening news.
Why this contrast? Why do we treat each other so differently when we are packed together?
I think the answer is that we have to. We brush by thousands of people every day and simply can’t interact with all of them like the two people in the Kalahari interacted. There isn’t enough time and we don’t have good enough memories. We have had to de-humanize each other in order to just do simple things like get to work on time.
The good news is, this de-humanization is a fragile bubble that we can burst any time we want to. Inside that fragile, impersonal bubble lies the warm and friendly instincts exhibited by the strangers in my desert story.
In my next post I’ll explore how we do that. Stay tuned.
First, full disclosure. I love Twitter. I love Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. I love all the various social media sites. They are a lot of fun and have done a lot of good for the human family. They have the potential to do a lot more good.
BUT, they are no substitute for human interaction in the real world.
We are people, not avatars. We are complex mixtures of feelings, dreams, instincts, quirks, values, needs, talents, fears and so much more. We are not neatly summed up in a picture and a bio.
We crave profound, meaningful relationships with others of our own kind. The kinds of relationships that take years to develop. Relationships based on love and appreciation. On trusting and striving to earn trust. On little kindnesses. On sacrifice and forgiveness. On sharing secrets and dreams. On overcoming problems together, growing together. Relationships that mean caring as much for the happiness of others as you care about your own, maybe more.
These rich, hard-fought-for relationships are the glory of the human family. We must never allow them to be replaced by click-to-follow/click-to-unfollow shallowness of online socialization. We just can’t let that happen.
Enjoy Twitter and Facebook for the fun diversions they are. But never forget that your destiny is in the real world with real people.
If I had to pick one #FlirtTip that I think is more important than all the others, it would have to be “Have Guts”.
Have you ever noticed that the most successful flirts are not the most beautiful or handsome. They are not the wittiest or the most articulate. They are simply the people with the most guts.
For some people, showing guts is easy. They are just naturally outgoing and seemingly immune to rejection. They are lucky. Most people, myself included, have to reach deep in themselves to find what it takes to risk a failed flirt.
Later posts will be about dealing with the dreaded R word (rejection). Until then, remember that courage is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
Unfortunately, the excuse-making part of your brain also gets stronger and better when you use it.
I like to think Shakespeare was thinking about flirting when he coined my favorite quote:
“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose
the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
The word Flirt has a lot of definitions and connotations. Not all of them describe the type of wholesome, real world interaction I encourage here in this blog and on Twitter.
For example, some people think flirting means not serious. ”I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just flirting.” I reject that notion of flirting. Like all human interactions, flirting deals with people’s hopes, values, dreams and feelings of self worth and self esteem. These must always be taken seriously. My type of flirting involves a real effort to make a meaningful connection to someone.
Another notion of flirting would have it akin to ‘seducing’. This dark side of flirting has objectives that are purely physical. Its methods generally involve deceit, objectification and manipulation. This is the exact opposite of what I encourage.
The type of flirting I blog and tweet about has these characteristics:
Honest Flirting is human interaction and should therefore be based on honesty.
Fun There is not doubt about it, flirting is fun. And, of course, it must be fun for both parties. If you get even a hint that it is not fun for the other person, move on.
Hopeful Besides being fun in the moment, flirting holds a promise, or at least a possibility, of an even more meaningful relationship in the future. That delightful “this might be the one” feeling is both mysterious and exhilarating. In a lot of ways, it is what flirting is all about.
Mind-to-Mind This is another way of saying ‘not just physical’. A flirt is not a hunter in search of his or her next conquest.
Although many of @AFlirtYourself’s tweets and blog posts could be used, or perhaps misused, for the wrong type of flirting, they are intended only for the wholesome side of flirting.
AFlirtYourself, both the Twitter account and this blog, is geared to people who want to do more and better flirting in the real world. While online social media sites are tons of fun, they don’t ordinarily help you make or strengthen real relationships with real people in the real world.
I have to admit, as a person who overcame paralyzing shyness, I have a soft spot in my heart for shy people. For people who would really love to be more outgoing and friendly, but are held back by shyness. A lot of my tweets are geared to those kind of people. They are meant to motivate and encourage people to reach out more.
People who are not particularly shy seem to like AFlirtYourself for the daily reminders to reach out. The #FlirtTips, #NiceFlirts, quotes, #FlirtDares, etc. are fun for everyone. They are meant to be pleasant mini-breaks during the day to remind us all what is really important in life… relationships.
In the average day, I’ll send out maybe ten or twelve tweets spaced throughout the day. Enough to keep the motivation level up, but not enough to be a nuisance.
Of course, I love feedback. So if you know a way I could improve, I would love to hear it.
The name AFlirtYourself comes from the phrase ‘Assert Yourself ‘. But instead of Assert I added an element of flirting and called it AFlirtYourself. I know it is kind of long and kind of cryptic, but I came up with it in a hurry when I wanted to try out this new site called Twitter. The first two or three names I thought up were taken. When AFlirtYourself got accepted, I went with it.
At that time I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted AFlirtYourself to be, except I hoped I could do something to encourage fostering relationships in the real world. Most people I tweeted with had one or two hundred followers. I thought if I worked hard and delivered quality tweets, I could maybe get as many as five hundred followers. Given enough time and work, who knows. Maybe even a thousand followers could be possible.
At last count, @AFlirtYourself had over 34,000 followers. I never cease to be amazed and honored at that. And, of course, the responsibility not to waste their time weighs heavy on me.
It has been a lot of work (you wouldn’t believe just how much work it has been), but it has also been fun and gratifying.
AFlirtYourself. It may be a strange, cryptic name, but I’m keeping it.
There have been so many of my wonderful Twitter followers asking me to start a blog that I just couldn’t procrastinate any more. Welcome to the official AFlirtYourself blog.
If you got here some way other than following a Twitter link, it may seem a bit strange to you so let me explain. AFlirtYourself, or more correctly, @AFlirtYourself, is a Twitter account that tries to encourage wholesome flirting in the real world.
@AFlirtYourself sends out motivational quotes, flirting tips, flirting examples, challenges and the two weekly flirting awards #TheFlirtsLady and #WhosOnFlirts.
It is a lot of fun to send out tweets about flirting. I hope it is fun to read them as well. The feedback I get is overwhelmingly positive.
I do it only for the fun. @AFlirtYourself is not a front for selling stuff. I have no other motive than that of encouraging people to take responsibility for bringing new friends into their lives.
Thanks for visiting here. I hope you enjoyed it and plan to come back from time to time. I’ll try to keep it fun and relevant.