Whether you’re shy or outgoing, everyone feels socially anxious at one time or another. Getting together with extended family members who live far away, an office gathering with colleagues you rarely work with, meeting other parents at your child’s school, or even neighborhood get-togethers—it can feel like there are endless occasions when you have to find something (anything!) to chat about with people you barely know.
Luckily Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offers a beautiful solution to social anxiety in his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.” By looking at others with genuine Christlike love, he says, we can bring about genuine connection: “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.” (DCE 18)
The first step, he writes, is to be firmly rooted in love for Christ. This love will naturally lead to love of neighbor, as the Bible and Church tradition tell us.
“Love of neighbor is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know,” he writes. “This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings.”
The key here is a change in perspective: Instead of hoping that others will take an interest in you, take an interest in them. Instead of hoping others will be impressed with you, look for something to admire in them. In other words, try to show them the love and attentive care that Christ would.
“Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes. “Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern.”
It’s not an obvious solution, but is a surprisingly simple one: Look for reasons to love the acquaintance you are talking to, and the conversation will naturally fall into place. It’s also very likely that the acquaintance will return your interest and want to continue the friendship as they sense your caring interest in them, but if they don’t, that’s also quite alright. This love for neighbor is something you’re doing for Christ, and He sees and knows your efforts: They will not go to waste.
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