Female Leadership

Tolerance versus Connection

The blue ball of connection

The story behind the remarkable TV commercial

The commercial
Perhaps you have seen them a few years ago: Salem Samhoud, an unknown Dutchman, calling upon people to connect. In the film he says he has had enough of individualisation and polarisation, and he asks people to support his connection initiative by ordering a blue ball, free of charge. The film lasts around two minutes; a long time in television terms. It looks attractive, polished and professional. In other words, it has cost someone a lot of money.

Many people wondered what was behind the film. What was the idea? Many assumed that there must be a commercial motive behind it: a clever campaign to publicise a new brand or product. Others, like the television correspondent of the newspaper The Volkskrant, suspected a vague conspiracy to convince people of the benefits of transcendental meditation or something in that direction. But there had to be something behind it… after all, nobody would pour so much money into a project with nothing but altruistic motives.

On the website of &samhoud, the organisation behind the connection initiative, we can also see many positive reactions to the film. People saying they are reassured, especially in an election period, to see that someone is finally taking the initiative to make a positive contribution. Someone who, evidently just like them, has had enough of all the negative bickering and complaining. Have these people understood the message? Or are they simply naïve, and have been taken in by a clever marketing trick?

Salem Samhoud
Salem Samhoud, the man in the film and the initiator of the project, says he has been overwhelmed by the positive reactions. There were many more than expected: around 95% of the reactions were positive. The total of 15,000 balls that it was originally thought would be given out has now grown to over 40,000. He can assure us that there are absolutely no ulterior financial motives hidden behind the campaign. The commercials were paid for from his own private assets. His motivation is precisely as he states it in the film: he has had enough of the individualization and polarisation he has experienced in Dutch society in recent times, and hopes to give a positive impetus to society with this campaign. The campaign is an attempt to make people aware of the importance of positivity and cooperation.

Where does this drive come from? Is it no more than the whim of a woollyminded individual? Or the initiative of an angry, dissatisfied man? It turns out that the connection campaign does not stand alone, and is not just the result of a whim. Although it is rooted in an ideological conviction, Salem has also carried out very extensive research into the phenomenon of connection.

Research into connection
Connection forms an element of the concept of relationships, specifically the relationships that have a particular qualitative value for a person. This qualitative value stands for a positive emotional connotation of which the minimal quality is in principle subjective: there is no absolute standard that determines the minimal emotion of a connective relationship. In the research, a connective relationship is always linked with the achievement of a particular goal. In principle this goal could be anything: achieving a certain result or performance, but also friendship or enjoyment. It is in any event at least a particular emotion, but it can also be more. The basic principle of a connective relationship is that the relationship always delivers more than the people concerned would have been able to achieve separately. The achievement of a (self-selected) goal, or the striving to achieve it, gives the relationship its special emotional value. This is the first time that this positive form of connection has been investigated on such a scale. The research, carried out in 14 countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Germany, the USA, China, Russia and Japan, has produced fascinating results. People who are well able to enter into connections (that is to say into relationships with a high emotional value) are first and foremost considerably happier than people who are less able to do so. Not only are these people generally happier, in particular they are happier in their work. This could have to do with the second main result of the research: that people who are strongly connected are better able to achieve their personal goals. In other words, they are more successful.

The research gives a possible explanation for this striking phenomenon. There appears to be a direct correlation between a high level of connection and self-awareness: the greater his or her self-awareness, the better a person is connected with others. This self-awareness is on the one hand composed of what you want to achieve and, on the other, how well you are aware of your own capabilities and capacities. This self-awareness is referred to in the research as ‘connection with yourself’. The better you are connected with yourself, the better you are able to connect with other people. And through these connections, that is to say these relationships to which a person attaches great emotional value, a person is better able to achieve personal goals and so be happier. This self-awareness can be understood as the degree to which a person knows what he or she wants to achieve in life, in combination with a good insight into his or her resources and abilities to achieve these goals. This awareness gives an added dimension to the individual’s personal relationships with other people, so that the connection with them is strengthened.

So there is nothing woollyminded behind the call for connection. You could even say that it is a call for people to organise themselves together better so their lives become more efficient and more productive. This ‘return on investment’ – happiness and the achievement of personal goals – can take many forms: a good working environment or a healthy work-life balance, but also money. Perhaps that sounds too good to be true, but anyone with some understanding of management or organisational studies can confirm that there is nothing as productive as a well-oiled and outstandingly collaborative team. The research merely shows that connection is a key condition for such a team.

Connection in society
With his appeal in the media Salem Samhoud is attempting to promote and advance these positive aspects of connection. The negative atmosphere that he sees on the increase in the Netherlands obstructs connection between people. The connection he refers to, with its positive effects of success and happiness, specifically grows on a foundation of positivity. Negativity, in the form of individualisation and polarisation, is the opposite of connection. In this context achievements are not made together, but mainly attained by and attributed to individuals. This makes it harder to achieve major aims, with the result that human happiness also remains limited.

Every society has a certain degree of connection: something that binds people into a social unit. This binding element is described in sociological terms as solidarity. The founder of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim (1858- 1917), employed the concept of solidarity to indicate the ways in which and the degree to which a society is connected. Solidarity is the central concept with which he attempts to describe the social cohesion of a community. Solidarity has no political connotation in this context. As a political term it is used by parties of all kinds. For the Left, for example, solidarity can mean a welfare state, while for conservatives solidarity can primarily be found in the free market. These are all interpretations and construals of the concept. As a sociological concept it remains a formal and descriptive term that is intended to provide an understanding of the phenomenon of social cohesion: the binding principle. Because there is always a certain degree of connection in a society, negativity can be understood as a very low form of connection. For example, a negative form of connection is a bond created on the basis of the exclusion of others. Negativity then refers to the absence of a positive and constructive goal. The more open and flexible a connected group is, the more adaptable its members are and the better they are able to achieve their goals.

Connection and the election result
The results of the elections in the Netherlands in June 2010, seems to confirm the impression of the loss of connection in the country. Political relations have never been so fragmented since the Second World War. There is a dominant and justified fear that this fragmentation will lead to indecision and a lack of dynamism. If this does turn out to be the case, then confidence in politics will decline still further, leading to a negative downward spiral. Increased fragmentation will lead to increased polarisation.

The research referred to above and Salem Samhoud’s appeal for more connection can be understood as an attempt to call a halt to this ominous lack of direction. Connection, understood as the politically neutral binding element of a society, can be strongly influenced by what we have described as ‘connection with yourself’. By encouraging people – and the country – to reflect on what they want to achieve and what they are good at, politics can acquire a strong goal that we can all work towards together. This goal, this connection that people will have to make with themselves, could bring about more connection; more solidarity. People will connect together to achieve this goal in reality. In other words, by investing in people’s personal development, by encouraging self-reflection, connection in society can be promoted, with all the positive and desirable results this will bring.

The blue ball of connection
Now we know the reasons and motivation behind the connection campaign, one last question remains: why the blue balls? What do they have to do with connection? A ball illustrates the power of connection almost automatically. The introduction of a ball into a group almost always sparks up a game. The ball is thrown or kicked, and people begin to play. People come into enjoyable contact with one another in a natural and unforced manner. The colour blue symbolises inspiration: the blue ball represents an attempt to inspire to connect.

There are no financial interests hidden behind Salem Samhoud’s campaign. The only personal gain he hopes to achieve is the idea that in his own way he can provide a positive impetus to the society of which he himself forms a part. The cynical reactions to the campaign and the initial distrust that many people originally felt can be understood as a symptom of the negativity that Salem has observed. Why is it so hard to believe that someone is acting out of empathy and not self-interest? Even if his concern and his fear of rising individualisation and polarisation were not fully justified, we could still conclude that this is no unnecessary campaign. The positive effects experienced by connected people that are shown in the research – greater success and personal satisfaction – are fundamental to human welfare, and as such are never unwelcome. We can safely say that someone who is extremely happy in life and has achieved what he or she wants will undoubtedly be a highly connected person. Anyone who cannot say this of themselves would perhaps do well to order a blue ball and reflect on the concept of connection. Or maybe discuss it over a game of football…


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