In 2007, I became Associate General Counsel of XTO Energy Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas. The long-range plan was for me to serve in that capacity until my boss retired, and then promote me to General Counsel in his place (assuming I didn’t screw things up before then). After two years, things remained on track as XTO promoted me to Vice President and Associate General Counsel. But in 2010, I hit a pothole in my road to the top legal position at XTO. ExxonMobil bought XTO (although it kept XTO as a separate subsidiary). My boss made it a couple of more years before he retired. He recommended me to replace him as XTO’s General Counsel, but it was not to be. An ExxonMobil lawyer was selected over me. Piling on, two years later ExxonMobil demoted me, taking away my Vice President and Associate General Counsel titles and almost all of my managerial responsibilities. In explaining to me why I was not selected as the new General Counsel of XTO, the then president of XTO (an ExxonMobil transplant) told me the company decided to go with someone who had greater “connectivity” with ExxonMobil.
Since that time, I have often thought about the meaning of “connectivity” and have come to the realization that humans cannot live without it (and apparently can’t get promoted without it either); we need to be connected to each other. I recently watched the movie Passengers,[i] about emigrants from earth traveling to a distant planet to start a new home. The spaceship travels through a meteor storm, causing a malfunction on the ship, which wakes up one of its passengers from his hibernation – about 90 years too soon. It will be another 90 years of space travel before the ship reaches its destination. He makes it for over a year by himself (and one robot) but it is hard for him to be surrounded by thousands of hibernating passengers, but no one to really connect with. One passenger in particular catches his eye. He then becomes obsessed with her. He figures out how he could wake her, too, and wrestles with whether to actually do it. He ultimately does, but keeps to himself the secret of why she woke up early, until one day, the robot lets it slip out:
How many of us would do the same, needing to connect to an human but knowing that by doing so, we would end that person’s life as he or she knows it? It is a dilemma I’m glad I don’t have to face.
In the movie Cast Away,[ii] Tom Hanks has a somewhat similar dilemma, but the best he can find is a volleyball (named Wilson, of course) to substitute for human companionship. Here is the scene where Wilson is created:
Here is a scene where Hanks argues with Wilson as if he were human:
Hanks even grieves for Wilson when he (it?) is lost at sea:
Although only a volleyball, Hanks’ need for connectivity with another human being results in Wilson almost becoming human, at least to Hanks. And the emotions he shares with Wilson are real – just as if Wilson were real.
Scientific studies have confirmed our need for connectivity. Early studies of primates and of children orphaned in World War II showed the physical and psychological stunting of growth in infants deprived of physical contact. Later research suggests that certain chemicals are released in our brains by the touch of another human. Other chemicals are released by the absence of physical contact. In one study, researchers found that premature infants who were massaged for 15 minutes three times a day gained weight 47 percent faster than others who were left alone in their incubators (the usual practice with premature babies at the time of the study) even though the massaged infants did not eat any more than the other infants. The researchers concluded that “their weight gain seems due to the effect of contact on their metabolism.”[iii] The massaged babies also developed their nervous systems more rapidly and become more responsive to stimuli. Touch works for all of us; recent research has shown that people who routinely hug are happier than those who do not.
In 1944, psychologist John Bowlby did a study on a group of juvenile delinquents. He noticed a high percentage of these boys had been abandoned when they were young and suffered from feelings of anger, humiliation and worthlessness. These boys withheld affection and developed other strategies to help them cope with their lack of connectivity to a parent. Bowlby concluded that children (as well as adults) need to feel love and have a safe place to go and connect with others. It is usually our family that provides that connectivity, but in today’s world of single parents and broken homes, it doesn’t have to be. Regardless of our circumstances, we are generally all right if we have a community, large or small, where we feel loved and accepted, as demonstrated by this clip from Freedom Writers:[iv]
Sadly, many of the groups we identify with, and which provide a community for us, are what I have heard called “community through outrage.” We are outraged at some injustice or breach of trust we see in the world and join other like-minded people with the intent of changing the injustice by tearing down the status quo, be it racial discrimination, equal pay for women, gun control, moms or dads against drunk drivers, child abuse and others. Please don’t misunderstand me. There are many great causes that need our support and many cases where the status quo is not working well, if at all. But how great would it be if we formed communities to build up rather than just to tear down?
I am grateful for family and friends who connect with me and accept me for who I am. I am even more grateful for those who help me be a better person. I have lived in three states and six different cities and have connected with some remarkable people along the way. I am saddened to realize I have lost connectivity with many of them. But true friends are those who, although you haven’t seen them for years, when you reconnect, it’s like you just saw them yesterday.
So let’s connect and reconnect and, where possible, do more than just be a Facebook friend or one of hundreds of links on Linked-In or other social media sites. Let’s email, text, call and, best of all, talk face to face. As we do, let’s build connections and larger communities based on respect for others, trust and love, building up the positive as well as tearing down the negative.
And don’t forget to give hugs along the way.
- Production: Columbia Pictures; LStar Capital; and Village Roadshow Pictures
- Directed by: Morten Tyldum
- Screenplay: Jon Spaihts
- Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen
- Release date: December 23, 2016
[ii] Cast Away
- Production: Twentieth Century Fox; DreamWorks and ImageMovers
- Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
- Screenplay: William Broyles, Jr.
- Starring: Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt
- Release date: December 22, 2000
[iii] Goleman, “The Experience of Touch: Research Points to a Critical Role,” The New York Times (February 2, 1988).
[iv] Freedom Writers
- Production: Paramount Pictures, Double Feature Films and MTV Films
- Directed by: Richard LeGravenese
- Screenplay: Richard LeGravenese
- Starring: Hillary Swank, Imelda Staunton and Patrick Dempsey
- Release date: January 5, 2007