by Vivek H Murthy

As a rule I review fiction on this site but Dr. Murthy’s book is an exception because if there is only one non-fiction you read in 2021, it should be Together. Though published pre-COVID, concepts and suggested action applies to creating connections in this era of masks and social distance. The human need for community he says, is hardwired; grounded in evolutionary underpinnings and if unmet, loneliness is the self preservation symptom of “lack of belonging” or a “genuine connection with people”. Since evolutionary time the narrative of rugged individualism and the pursuit of self determination, a belief that we alone shape our destiny, is at odds with our hardwired needs and affects everyone. Dr. Murthy cites personal experience and examples from the medical field to illustrate that the issue is widespread yet personal in how much togetherness each individual may need. He introduces a “third bowl” concept – not deep so we meld into a stew but one where we retain our individuality and not so wide that we become separate entities. My favorite part of the book was the Circle Framework based on 3 types of relationships everyone must have: Intimate, Relational, Collective. One critical aspect of the framework is that all three types of relationships must be present; only one intimate relationship (say a couple) can be as burdensome as hundreds of the collective – say through social media platforms.

For most people it is not easy to open up and start sharing or to ask for help and the problem becomes worse when we are lonely. Men’s Shed is an example activity that facilitates communication. In giving one can receive and in receiving one can give. In these days where COVID guidelines impose physical distancing we can do a better job of social media or other digital platforms to seek and give “Togetherness”. In this context I adapted his circle concept to my life to see if it would work. I listed my inner circle of 5-15 people who are closest, and I might spend 50% or more time with. My usual way of keeping in touch was hosting dinners/book clubs/gardening/theater/group hikes. We have moved our book club online; instead of dinner we do happy hour or play games on zoom. Like others if I need help (or am in a position of giving help) it is hard to pick up the phone and ask. However, the benefit of proximity can be had with some form of regular digital communication. We may not realize it, but somebody organizes an activity like Men’s Shed. With digital media we ourselves bear the responsibility of creating social contact. Using his guidelines I did the same exercise with the other two categories. I found that I have not been able to keep up with people in the relational circle (professional, travel related, Facebook etc.) but the collective circle communication (family in India, my writing buddies etc.) has improved (yes – zoom and facetime!)

A coach, scientist, author, and professor zoom into a bar: Catch Michele Bolton, Raji Pillai, Shailaja Venkatsubramanyan and Neerja Raman on a panel discussion for Together on February 21, at 4:00 pm. sponsored by Silicon Valley Reads and Indian Business and Professional Women. (IBPW is a non-profit support network that promotes education, leadership and self-development through seminars and workshops.)

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World - Murthy, Vivek H