Why Human Connection Beyond the Internet is so Important

Dialogue -- talking to each otherBusy weekend. Tree decorating. Dinner with friends. Grocery shopping. Laundry folding and finally time to scrape that sticky stuff up off the wood floor below the counter. What the heck is that, anyhow?

I got it all done, but there wasn’t much downtime and I felt depleted, unsettled.

By the time Monday circled back I wanted to quietly cocoon. But I had a date with a friend. Course, I contemplated postponing. Instead, I checked to make sure my ringer was on so that she could postpone. And then, I pulled on my sweater and jeans, brushed my teeth and headed back out into the world to meet her.

I didn’t want to go. I rarely want to. What I prefer is reading a book on the couch — alone. But, then life gets a little narrow and gray-colored. I’m limited by my own ideas and jokes. And I become increasingly curious about what all those other people are up to.

I knew if I canceled on my friend, it would be months before we could reconnect.  I also knew that I’m better for hanging with her. So,  I committed, bought 16 ounces of coffee in a ceramic ‘for here’ mug  and was waiting for her when she walked in. So glad I was.

Just sitting with her, sharing concerns and views and ideas about family drama and Christmas tree hunting and election fallout and books kept me thinking, laughing and curious. She brought up things I’d never thought about. In a kind, intelligent and funny way she offered up a unique perspective. And I felt so much better by the end. And dang, so much smarter. I felt connected.

When We Connect We Do Better

I’m always communicating with people, of course. More than ever.  Texting, Facebooking, a few phone calls, tons of e-mails. And I love the technology that puts me in touch. But I’m not sitting down face-to-face with people like I used to. Instead, I’m using customized emojis to convey my real emotions in a text that is often reworked,  thanks to fat fingers, by autocorrect. This is not real life. At least not all there is to it.

Yet, this kind of connection has become a habit for most of us. All of the time.  Even the people we do come into contact with – the kid’s teacher, the checker at the grocery store, the guy at the gym – we hardly notice. We keep our heads down, moving quickly to the car and the office and back again. We are getting it done, without even noticing the others who are doing it with us.  We don’t make eye contact, rarely look up and around to pass on a greeting or a smile. We don’t see each other.

And this makes it easier to judge the other. The other guy becomes the problem. It becomes easy to feel angry at the guy who steps in your way, instead of recognizing he’s a first time dad, trying to find the right medicine to help his sick baby son. Right? He is stressed out of his gourd, and we are just pissed he cut in front.

We judge the lunch woman as being gruff or brusque in her dealings when we are the ones who don’t even say “thank you” or bother to learn her name. We write the check. Move on.

When we don’t lift up our heads and see one another  it becomes much easier to become afraid and wary and isolated and isolating. Gotta stop that stuff. That is not where the life is. Hope is in the compassion and kindness and intelligence and humor that others can offer. Sure people do crackpot things. But, they are also the solution to the crackpot problems of our day. We need to notice. Listen to one another. Teach and talk to one another.

When we do, when we really pause long enough to see each other, look each other in the eye and connect, we do better.

Whether it’s during a long conversation with a friend at the coffee shop or a glance and greeting in passing with the cafeteria woman, when we notice each other, we share a moment and that moment becomes better. The personal connection enlivens and enlightens us. Keeps us engaged in the world and with each other and reminds us of our humanity and compassion. Then we separate, go on and off about our lives, but we are more likely to do it with patience and kindness — which spreads others — and because we took a moment to see each other, we save the world a little bit at a time. Make it a little bit better. And we save ourselves.

A large body of research shows that connecting with others buffers us against depression, illness, and other tough stuff. It also prompts well-being and uplifts mood.

And I think it’s even bigger than that, it reminds us of our humanity, our compassion. When we pause to look another in the eye, we see the truth in each other, that everybody is just trying to get by. That we’ve all got loves and lives and struggles and fears and that we are just trying to figure it all out.

It’s easy to pick a fight on Facebook. Easy to forget the people behind the posts.

Easy to comment without connecting to the fears or sadness or worries. With social media we can keep life at a distance. Substitute emojis for real emotion.

Over coffee with a friend, not so much.  I listen better. I give my attention. I carefully weigh what she shares rather than scrolling on to kitten pictures. I’m all in.

And in the end I’m the one who benefits. I’m the one who feels more creative and engaged and connected and alive.


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