Right now I’m sitting in the airport about to go visit my sister in Boulder, Colorado. There’s a little kid standing next to me playing hide and seek with a cousin – there’s a whole huge family here that’s on their way to American Samoa for an annual family reunion. A phone nearby just rang and the kid stopped in his tracks and looked for that noise. It only took him a few seconds to come back to playing though. He’s watching everybody in this room. He’s watching most of us on our phones, with headphones in, typing on our computers. And I get that. The adults in the room have stuff to do…. but are we actually doing anything?
That stranger’s phone is making noise again. The kid is looking. A guy nearby is timing his friend doing a rubrics cube. A group of soccer girls is talking about how many likes they’re getting on something. One of them just said, “If I don’t get good pictures, I’m gonna be so upset.” Another guy is watching sports on his phone. A lady is texting and on Pinterest.
I challenge the “fact” that we’re actually busy doing important things all the time… maybe we’re just keeping ourselves busy because we’ve become unable to just be.
Studies all over the place are telling us that we’re one of the most depressed and anxious and disconnected generations in history. They also show that those two things are directly related. Lack of connection leads to anxiety and depression – and unfortunately anxiety and depression often lead to lack of connection. AND anxiety and depression are directly linked to the amount of time we spend in front of a screen.
“But Kate, sometimes I’m just tired and I don’t want to talk to anybody at the airport.” That’s fine. I get that. This isn’t me judging you as a parent, as a business person, as a human being. This isn’t about you specifically… unless it feels like it is. And if you feel like it’s about you specifically, maybe now would be a great time to check in with your screen time.
I find that we get defensive with this whole screen time thing. I find that we say stuff like, “I just want to be quiet.” “You don’t know what they’ve already been through today.” “Well you’re on your phone sometimes too!” “I’m looking something up.” “I’ve gotta respond to this xyz.” And we can defend our desire to be on our phone until we’re blue in the face but the facts are, our phones, in many ways, are keeping us disconnected from each other, and this disconnection is causing issues.
Take the news as an example:
It feels like no-one is listening. We’re all just yelling. We’re all angry. And we’re all angry because we’re hurting. And we’re all hurting because some folks don’t believe there’s a problem. And those folks don’t believe in the problem because they aren’t compassionately listening to understand, they’re listening to defend.
I was at a bar this week playing giant Jenga. A friend of a friend of a friend came to join us and we introduced ourselves – for the sake of this piece, let’s call this guy Chris. A gal we were with had been playing connect four earlier. Chris said to her, “Hey Connect Four…” She looked at me, after having a few tequilas, and whispered, “I know he’s not talking to me amiright.” I looked at him and said, “Her name is Britt and she might respond to you if you lead with that.” Chris said, “Whatever.” Later, after I had also had a few tequilas, I addressed Chris as “Top Knot” because he had a top knot bun in his hair. He immediately got offended and told me that he couldn’t believe that I didn’t remember his name after we had been standing next to each other for about a half hour. With a smile on my face I asked him if he remembered when he had called my friend “Connect Four” and if he knew what my name was. He said the first situation wasn’t the same and never ended up getting my name right.
There are terms out there for situations like this. In this situation, it’s male fragility. In a situation where racism is on the table, it’s called white fragility. Please google both. They’re important to understand AND we can have all the terms in the world, but if we’re not listening and believing each other, we’re not going to be able to connect – all the terms in the world won’t change whether we’re listening to understand someone or not.
I feel like I can’t stop hearing, “All this PC stuff is just too uptight and too hard to get it right all the time! Everybody is always upset about something.” And I’d like to offer this: people are upset because it feels like most people aren’t trying.
If Chris had asked me my name 8 times throughout the night because he just couldn’t remember what it was, I’d appreciate the fact that he knew that calling me by my name is important.
If you can’t remember someone’s pronouns, ask them because you care.
If you don’t know what someone’s pronouns are, introduce yourself with your pronouns and then ask for theirs.
If someone tells you they’re upset, tell them you’re sorry for hurting them and ask them if they can help you understand why they’re upset.
If you’re tired of being called a racist, look into your racist behavior and see how you can do better (I mention this because on Memorial Day weekend a man told me that happens to him a lot and it’s annoying for him. I told him that it might be helpful to know that it’s worse to have to interact with a racist than it is to BE racist. Nobody likes having to point out when someone is being a racist because that normally means that a Black or Brown person is having to converse with them. Next time this happens, which I’m sure it will, he could actually say, “Thank you so much for bringing that to my attention in the moment! I know that’s challenging and exhausting. I’m committed to doing better so I really appreciate your feedback.” And then actually do some work to be better. Also – white folks (hello. it me.) it’s our job to point out in the moment when someone is being racist. Don’t keep brushing it off. The more we do it, the less people of color will have to.)
If a woman tells you that she doesn’t appreciate your “compliment,” you could ask her how it makes her feel instead of telling her that she should just take the compliment. AND THEN, if she has the emotional energy to actually tell you why it makes her upset, you could say, “Thank you.” And when she does NOT have the emotional energy to explain this to you, ask someone else for their feedback on the situation. Leave her alone. It’s not her job to tell you, it’s your job to figure it out.
We aren’t going to be perfect – ever. That’s part of the human condition. But we can be honest, we can be trustworthy, we can be compassionate – not just nice, or polite, or sweet – but actual compassion and kindness (these things include truth and the truth can be really challenging), we can listen to understand, we can ask for what we need, we can make empowered choices, we can trust and believe in collaboration over competition, we can empower each other, we can share, and we can do inner healing work because “the work we do on ourselves is the work we do on the world.”
I believe that intentional connection takes a lot of practice and that we WILL mess up over and over and over again and that we should keep going.
I believe that intentional connection is going to be what saves the world.
I believe that intentional connection heals us physically, spiritually, emotionally.
I believe that intentional connection feels like believing that you’re whole and necessary and feeling that everyone else is too.
I believe that intentional connection is the depth that we are lacking.
I believe that intentional connection feels scary but is really worth it – every time.
I believe that each one of us is capable of intentional connection, first with ourselves, and then with others – and I believe that it is our responsibility to do this work.
I believe that, over time, intentional connection, feels much more real and much less scary than a lifetime of “connection” that is a mile wide but only an inch deep. We didn’t come this far to only go this far.
Keep asking questions.
Keep coming back.
Keep speaking the truth.
Be like that kid in the airport: when your phone pings, maybe you notice it, but maybe, only a moment later, you can return to eye contact with the person in front of you. Allow this dopamine release to come from the eye contact and connection you’re making instead of the ding of your phone.
Originally posted on Creative Souls Nashville July 2019