A few nights ago I was driving back from a meeting when I saw a skunk crossing the road. Following behind her in a neat row were 4 little baby skunks. While I stopped to let them cross, I noticed how the mother skunk stopped at the curb to help each one climb up this formidable obstacle. Safe inside my car I thought about how in a different circumstance coming across a skunk could ruin my night, but tonight it was a thing of beauty to witness the love and caring this mother skunk provided for her babies. In this formative stage of their lives these little baby skunks had no reason to fear giant vehicles that could instantly crush them, without thinking twice they knew that they could climb the huge mountain (in the form of a curb) in front of them because they were with their mom and when mommy is there to protect them they can feel secure enough to take on any challenge and bold enough to face any hurdle.
In nature this concept is known as attachment and it is crucial to the healthy development of many animals. For humans secure attachment allows us to experience emotions in healthy ways and allows us to take the risk of connecting with others. Our attachment experiences with our parents lead to attachment experiences with friends, and eventually to connection with spouses and our own children continuing the cycle. When an infant feels discomfort and cries it is her mother's concerned but comforting response that teaches her that this feeling is real and will get better. When a child is embarrassed at school, his teacher's empathy gives him the confidence to face the next day. In this blog I hope to share some thoughts and hopefully launch discussions about connection, attachment, and how we can use them to enhance our lives and the lives of those around us.
But sometimes its really hard to connect with someone. Who would take the risk of connecting with a volatile skunk when the wrong move could produce an overreaction and a stigmatizing spray that gets all over you and keeps people away for a long time? That night I saw how to a mother these are just her babies - never mind those ominous glands beneath their tails (who knows one day when they are teenagers they might remind her). One last thought, perhaps what makes it easier for the mommy skunk to connect is her recognition that she shares that feature with her babies; if we focus on the things that distance us from those we should be connecting with maybe we need to think about whether we share some of those same traits.
As the last skunk climbed up the curb, I drove off as fast as I could to get home to my family so that I could give them the hugs that will armor them, and receive the hugs that keep me going (and also to avoid getting sprayed). Photo by Jared Belson