The ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, Tzipi Hotovely, recently presented her credentials to Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. During the formalities, the Queen turned her attention to Hotevely’s husband, Or. Or said they had a lovely conversation during which he asked the 95 year old Queen “What is the one piece of life advice you can give, in light of your rich experience”. The Queen did not answer immediately, apparently it was completely out of protocol and no doubt the queen was not expecting such a question. She thought about it for a bit and then responded as follows “If I had to give only one piece of advice, it would be to invest in human connections. There is nothing more important in life than connecting with other people and I think the last year has made that very clear”.
Or, then asked the Queen permission to bless her with a blessing recited in the presence of royalty. She agreed and he proceeded to bless her. The Queen smiled and thanked them both for coming. Later, upon reflecting on their visit to the Queen, Or said that the advice he was given and the blessing he gave were by far the highlights of his visit.
We know that this idea of human connection is critical to the physical and mental wellbeing of people of all ages. Human or social connection is a feeling of being accepted and appreciated and provides us with a sense of trust and belonging in one’s family, social group and community. Research has shown that a feeling of closeness to others increases longevity and strengthens the immune system. Studies have proven that a sense of belonging has a profound effect on the knowledge and skills that students can learn, retain and apply.
Socially connected students (and this can just as easily apply to adults as well):
- Look forward to going to school and feel they are accepted for who they are
- Feel they can approach both staff and students
- Care about the welfare of staff and what their teachers think of them
- Adopts the values and culture of the school
Given the high value of social connection to student academic success and emotional wellbeing, it is definitely worth the investment of time and resources.
So, how do we and our students and children develop and maintain healthy social connections ? There are so many responses to this question but out of all the theories and ideas presented, these 5 seem to top every list:
Make time: As the Queen advises, it is so important to make time to connect with friends and family. Now more than ever, we need to set aside time in our daily or weekly schedules to ensure we connect with our friends and family.
Be present: It is so tempting to check your phone while connecting with friends and family. Especially now, in the middle of lockdown, where we can’t even visit or get together with others and only do this on-line, it is even more important to be present. Facebook, Instagram and Tik Toks will still be there when we return from catching up. Being present means we are totally engaged in the conversation or activity and making sure our friends and family feel they are being listened to.
Listen and be listened to: Actively listen to what others are saying especially during this period when our children and students are not able to spend time during the day with each other, as they would at school or on weekends. Listening to others in a non-judgmental way and focusing on their needs makes them feel supported and develops trust and confidence in the relationship. Like any relationship, it is reciprocal, meaning we need to give as well. In addition to listening to others, both parties need to be honest and allow themselves to be supported.
Recognise unhealthy relationships: We know that being around positive relationships can make us happier. Our wellbeing can be negatively influenced by harmful relationships, leaving us feeling unhappy and disappointed. It is so important that our students and children recognise the signs of an unhealthy relationship and either ask for support to mend the relationship or to make sure to move forward by letting go of the relationship.
Investing in my relationship with myself: Self-care is about looking after yourself. Our relationship with ourselves is crucial to our own wellbeing allowing us to create healthy relationships with others. Being kind to ourselves regularly is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Self-care might be going for a walk each day or watching a good movie. Spending time catching up with a friend or pursuing a hobby are all perfect examples of self-care. The most important lesson of self-care is not to be too critical of ourselves and not to examine our faults in too much detail. Instead, we need to celebrate our successes, as minor as they may be.
Judaism defines friendship as one of the primary relationships in our lives. The benefits of friendship are appreciated by Jewish tradition. It is written in Kohellet (Ecclesiastes), “Two (people) are better than one because they are able to succeed in their labour. If one will fall, the other can lift his fellow, but woe to them if they are alone for when one falls, they have no other assist” (4:9-10). Friendship is more than a social connection in the Jewish context. Friends offer each other help, loyalty, protection, support and moral guidelines.
Investing time in human connection is by no means a new concept. Our great Sages had a very clear understanding that it is through these relationships in which the self develops. The Mishnah provides advice on the importance of selecting friends “Come and learn which is the right path to which a person should adhere? A good friend” Avot 2:13). The Mishnah is also quick to point out that we should “distance ourselves from a bad neighbour, and the dangers involved in befriending an evil person” (Avot 1:7).
As we move on from the period of mourning and sadness of the Three weeks and Tisha B’Av, we head straight into the festival of Tu B’Av (15th Av). Tu B’Av is both an ancient and modern holiday. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women during the Second Temple period. Over time, it has become the Jewish day of friendship and love. A day on which we are able express our appreciation for the friendships and relationships in our lives.
Let us use this minor holiday to acknowledge and celebrate the friendships and special relationships that are so important to us. Now more than ever, let us heed the advice of the Queen and make sure we invest in those human connections that we know are so critical in our own lives and in the lives of our students and children.
This coming Friday evening and Saturday night, we urge all families to connect with us by participating in our special Friday Pre-Shabbat Kabbalat service from 4:00pm and our special Havdalah service on Saturday night at 6:00pm. Please click here to access these special events.
About the author
Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.