Just Hanging Out

Just Hangin’ Out…

One of the privileges of working in a community-led, service-oriented organisation, is that I come across some remarkable people. Remarkable, not because they are heroes who save the day, not because they perform magical acts that miraculously take away the pain and grief that many people we connect with experience, and not because they have a super power that transforms darkness into light.

Life’s just not like that.

It’s more complex, multifaceted and ‘messier’, and we’d be wise to respond cautiously when we hear about remarkable people in our western populist and simplistic media. I think there are other meanings for extraordinary than those anchored to the myth of the hero.

So, what does make these people remarkable?

In what might seem counter-intuitive for those who think that to be remarkable means to be; herculean, superhuman and gallant, paradoxically what makes such people remarkable, is often their ordinariness. That is, their real ‘remarkableness’ is that they resist the need to be extraordinary. One way that I know some people do this is by; “just hangin’ out” with others.

Maybe this sounds too simplistic and not considerate enough of the vast skills and much experience of professionals who work in community services (and it is!), so allow me to explain what I mean.

I was recently talking with Barbara*, someone who understands, values and is energised by being in community with others.

Our conversation caused me to reflect and contemplate, that perhaps if we just allowed ourselves moments of ‘ordinariness’, that we (without even trying) could create a better connection with others by; “just hangin out” with them?

What do I mean?

Barbara attends her fair share of meetings and tells me that she could spend all day, every day in them. Although, mostly these are meetings, in which not much real meeting or connection take place. Instead, they’re usually full with agendas that drive discussion to a place where people are focused on outcomes and achievements, rather than learning about and being with, others.

Perhaps this is what happens when we are seduced by busyness, efficacy and results; rather than connection, compassion and being present, in our relationships with others?

It was one particular conversation with Barbara that took my attention. She told the story of her work in a region where it is not uncommon for people to experience daily challenges. Various people have advised Barbara on the best ‘technique’ on how to connect with and ‘help’ these people.

Such advice she tells me, is usually focused on factors like; ensuring appropriate preparation, setting agendas, allowing enough time, being clear on what she wants to ‘get from the conversation’ and Barbara’s all-time favourite; ‘stakeholder management’.

It’s all about organising, with very little focus on relationships and very little focus on others.

What is it about our modern day living that sees us so drawn into the privitisation of self?

Thankfully, this isn’t the way that Barbara attends to her relationships with others. She isn’t driven by a focus on technique, she’s not seduced into seeing conversations as only about ‘achieving results’ and she isn’t enthused about agendas when it comes to real ‘meetings’ with others.

Instead and ironically, it is the lack of agenda that often mean her conversations are filled with real ‘meeting’, ‘living’ and ‘being’; with others. Further still, they often end up achieving something, even though that was not the intention.

If you’re easily lost in a world of paradox, you may be lost in this story by now too? It takes some deep reflection and thinking critically outside of our modern way of ‘being’ with others to make sense of what being in community really means.

Back to my chat with Barbara  So, I asked her what was important to her when developing relationships with others?

I just hang out with people”.

Knowing Barbara, this needed no further explanation to me, although there is more to it if you’d like to know…

When you get to know Barbara, you soon realise that while her method may be “just hangin’ out”, it’s her ‘her reason for being’ (ontology), that is the key to understanding her connection with others. This is grounded in relationships and communality, rather than individuality and self. Barbara seems to really grasp what Buber (1969) calls i-thou. Barbara told me that the most remarkable things can happen in these most ordinary of moments, simply by; “just hangin out” with others.

The conversation with Barbara had me reflecting and wondering:

  • How much could we learn about each other, if we were to turn our focus to others in conversation, rather than what we want to achieve?
  • Also, what  might we learn from each other if we suspended our own agendas?
  • How often do we find ourselves in ‘meetings’ where no real ‘meeting’ takes place? 

Perhaps ironically, it is the most ordinary of things; connecting with others, that creates the most extraordinary moments in life?

*name changed

If you or someone you know is feeling lonely or seeking connection, you can contact Lifeline (in Australia) on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au. Similar support and crisis lines exist in other countries – for a full list, click HERE.


Author:      Robert Sams

Email:         [email protected]

Web:            www.dolphyn.com.au

Book:           Social Sensemaking – Click HERE to Order