Losing the Art of Interpersonal Connection

I read a wonderfully written commentary the other night about violence and mental health and anger. I agreed with Laura Hayes – violence is not a product of a mental illness, violence is a product of anger and the inability to control one’s anger. She asserts that the US is “a culture awash in anger”….and I wondered “how did we get here? When did we lose our ability to handle anger? When did we lose our ability to communicate?”

We stand in line at Starbucks and can barely tear ourselves away from the phone to give a drink order before rapidly returning to the distraction. Head down we wait, sometimes unaware that we’ve stopped right in the middle of the aisle blocking others. We are not “available” for a smile or a comment about the weather or the hometown team. We are “busy.”

We walk down the street weaving through streams of silent stares and budded ears. They are within their own cocoon. We are within ours. We are not “available” and we bump and jostle along the way.

We stare blankly on the public transit, the music in our ears filling our minds. We do not need conversation. We do not need the “other” over there. They clearly don’t need us.

We send text messages that communicate some of our deepest feelings….words punctuated by an emoticon. Yet, the “feeling” is subject to a variety of interpretations depending on the “receiver’s” state of mind, level of attentiveness, time at which they finally saw the text. We hit “send” in the attempt to connect, but have no control over whether we did at that moment or whether we even “connected” at all.

Even more than this vague attempt at connecting for ourselves, we are often unaware of the response of the person reading the text. We are not aware that we might have interrupted a very personal or intimate moment the person was having….now lost forever because of a beep. We do not know that they might have turned away from the windshield to look at the phone and swung the car into a pole. We do not know that they might have looked down from their toddler and missed the catch as the body dropped from the high bar. We cannot begin to fathom the effect of our “message” on its receiver…..because we are not actually connected.

We laugh at the “auto-corrects” and how information became twisted, but we forget the fact that someone’s stomach twisted, someone’s heart dropped, someone’s breath got caught in their throat when they read the text….until the correction came through and they sighed.

We sit across the table from each other in a restaurant, lost in the virtual world of a flat screen, neglecting the three-dimensional breathing, speaking, vivid person in front of our own eyes. We interrupt our conversations with a “let me check this” or “oh, it could be…” – as if the information coming in was more important than the person we chose to be with at the time.

We are isolating ourselves and isolating each other all in the name of being “connected” by our technology.

More importantly we are isolating our external communication from our own inner emotion. We are becoming more and more distant from our feelings and from understanding the feelings of others.

When we feel happy, we try to text our joy….or “Facebook” our excitement….but the response can never match our euphoria. We want someone to hug us in excitement. We want someone to jump up and down and do the happy dance with us. We want someone to feel the excitement and increase it by their shared joy. The text goes off into space….. “yay” is the empty reply…. We are deflated.

When we feel hurt, we spew out angry words into space….We want someone to acknowledge us, to validate us. We want someone to say, “I know. It stinks.” We need reassurance that our emotion is “correct” and “normal” and will pass. But we cannot find that in the two-dimensional space….the silence that follows the “whoosh” of the sent.

When we lose touch with our emotions…. when we lose the ability to share those emotions with others….we lose the nature of our own personhood and we lose others. Then we have no qualms about walking through a high school hallway wielding deadly knives. Then we hurt someone who “bothered” us that moment. Then we engage in violence because that “someone” is just a faceless, empty digital someone. We have lost our connection.

  • Today…. we need to connect.
  • Today we need to feel.
  • Today we need to label our emotions and share them deeply and meaningfully with someone else.
  • Today we need to be able to cry with someone.
  • Today we need to hold someone.
  • Today we need to help our children sit in the moment of their emotions and name them and feel them and know that it is real.
  • Today we need to visit someone or call them and hear their voice.
  • Today we need to put the phone in our pocket and read a book or giggle at the splasher in the bathtub.
  • Today we need to remember that we are a human, created to be in relationship with other humans.
  • Today we need to and can change.

Today we must.