Last week Pope Francis was in the USA for a six-day multi-city tour. During his visit he emphasised, among other things, the importance of love, inclusivity, and equality. The reaction of the people was very interesting. Tens of thousands of people flocked together to get a glimpse of the pope. No matter what their religious beliefs or background was, it seemed as if everyone wanted to be close to him and be a part of the event. It felt to me as if the people craved for something. It was as if there was a hunger for what he spoke about. His message touched their hearts, it made them feel heard and part of a group. In one of his speeches he said,

“Building a nation calls us to recognise that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility,”

As humans we have a fundamental need to relate to others and feel that we belong to a group. Research indicates that this need is as strong as the need for food. According to the neuroscientist, David Rock, people feel threatened if they feel they can’t relate to others. The brain will then activate either a ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ response. On the other hand if people feel they are part of a group they show more empathy and trust towards those in the group.

The new psychology of leadership indicates that one of the principles of a good leader is to be perceived as ‘being one of us’. Leaders are perceived as part of the group when they present qualities and values that are important to the group. When Pope Francis visited inmates, lunched with the homeless and proclaimed relating to others he managed to create that feeling of inclusivity. This reminded me of the 1995 Rugby World Cup when Nelson Mandela wore the green-and-gold Springbok jersey and cap at the Final in South Africa. With that gesture he was perceived as ‘one of us’ and unified the nation. If we reach out and relate to others we enhance empathy and equality.

Studies indicate that when we foster more social contact we increase the relatedness between different groups. In connecting with others we are building bridges. The photo that I took last week of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (see top of blog) symbolises for me the message of Pope Francis, that in order to build a nation we need to relate to others. When we relate to others we connect. I want to encourage you to reach out and connect with others. As Isaac Newton said:

” We build too many walls and not enough bridges”.

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