Who Are My People?

overwhelm Jun 20, 2024
A abstract image of a crowd. Overcoming overwhelm in modern life requires more than just finding a community; it demands building trust and embracing vulnerability.

Last week, I ended my letter to you by saying that community is the solution to the “new normal,” i.e., the overwhelmed modern life. 

And I stand by that statement. 

Not only have studies shown that social connections improve our mental health, reduce our symptoms of anxiety and depression, and increase our sense of purpose and fulfillment, but we also know this to be intuitively true based on our lived experience. 

However, saying community is the answer is too simplistic. If the answer to our loneliness and isolation were as easy as “finding a community,” we all would. But instead many of us are left lifting up our heads, saying, "Where is my community?” or “Who are my people?" and not knowing where to find them. For a community to actually deliver on the promise of an improved life it must help us learn how to trust and deepen our willingness to be vulnerable with others. This week’s letter (a bit delayed due to some much-needed vacation) looks into why communities that help us trust and be vulnerable are so necessary. 

Thank you for all of your comments on my previous letter. I read every one of them. Please keep them coming.

Shared Actions Are Not Enough

Seth Godin has a phrase to describe the tribe of people we relate to: "People like us do things like this." It's a simple framework that resonates with me on many levels. I am drawn to communities that value social justice and equality, are curious and seek to be informed, have hope for the future, and believe it's our responsibility to transform that hope into reality through action. People who do these things are, more than likely, to be my “tribe.”

But “doing things like this” is not enough. In fact, this may be the single biggest problem with the congregations I've served. Time and again I’ve worked for churches organized around what they want to do in the world without prioritizing how they want to be with each other. And then they wonder why they don't get along. Actions and goals are important, but without a desire to build a community based on trust and vulnerability, the result is a fragile and inauthentic shell that leaves members wounded and mistrustful.

What Stories Guide Our Lives?

We live in a society that celebrates success and this creates pressure to present a perfect image. Social media often amplifies this, making it seem like everyone has their life enviably together, contrasting with our less-than-together lives. This illusion can be incredibly isolating, making us feel that our struggles are unique or even shameful. It takes courage to admit that we're struggling. We fear that revealing our weakness will lead to judgment or rejection, and too often, we put on a brave face and suffer in silence.

Being able to share our vulnerabilities helps us feel connected to the world. When we open up to others, we are trusting them with our authentic selves, which allows others to feel safe enough to share their vulnerabilities with us. Colloquially, we call this reciprocation “being seen” and there may be nothing more important to a human being than to be seen as it affirms our worth and dignity and value. Relatedly, the fear of judgment is perhaps the greatest barrier we face when trying to uncover (or recover) our true selves. We worry if people see us for who we really are, they will think less of us or even abandon us. 

We seem to simultaneously live with a deeply rooted desire for acceptance and belonging and a fear of judgment that keeps us from building the authentic connections we desire.

What Stories Are Guiding Us?

I've come to believe that, on some level, all religions are trying to help us overcome this fear of judgment and abandonment. I know… I know… Don't bother listing all the ways religion has failed in this endeavor. I already agree with you. But just because religions have failed doesn't mean they weren't created out of some desire to explain why we live with these feelings. When I think about the Garden of Eden, the foundational story of human existence for half of the earth's people—and we take a step back from the text—we see humans trying to explain why they feel alone and ashamed. 

I'm less interested in how the story has been used than I am in just acknowledging that this is how we feel. And embedded in the story is this deep aspiration to get back to the belonging we once felt. I don't believe in this story as history. In fact, I don't think there ever was a better time than the one we are living in right now. Instead, I see this story of our alleged past is an aspiration for our future. We long for a place where we can feel safety, trust, vulnerability, and connectedness. But it is up to us to build this place.

Uncovering Our True Selves

Shame is a destructive force that often lurks in the shadows of our psyche, eroding our self-esteem and hindering genuine connections with others. It thrives in secrecy and silence. But vulnerability can serve as a powerful antidote. Vulnerability entails acknowledging our shame and opening up about it. It's about stripping off our protective layers and revealing our authentic selves, even if it means exposing our flaws and weaknesses. 

Verbalizing our feelings is not just about seeking validation. It's about breaking the silence the fear of judgment imposes. Embracing vulnerability, therefore, is not just about fostering connection and authenticity; it's about freeing ourselves from the debilitating grip of our fears. We build walls, don masks, and play roles, all to avoid the sting of rejection or criticism. But, in doing so, we miss out on genuine connections and authentic living. By allowing ourselves to be seen, flaws, quirks, and all, we not only foster deeper relationships but also cultivate a powerful self-acceptance.

Uncovering our true selves involves making a commitment to embracing vulnerability and building communities based on trust and deep listening. Only then can we overcome the overwhelm of our modern condition and find the connection and belonging we all crave.

I’d love to hear from you. In what ways do you find yourself putting up walls or wearing masks in your daily interactions? What fears or beliefs drive this behavior?



  • In what ways do you find yourself putting up walls or wearing masks in your daily interactions?
  • What fears or beliefs drive this behavior?

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