Our lives have changed significantly from those of the generations before us, thanks in large part to technology. Even before we get out of bed on most mornings, we’ve checked our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts — and that’s before we move on to our email and other internet browsing. We get up, get dressed, go to our jobs or school — and then what?
First of all, whatever happened to praying first thing in the morning — even a five-minute prayer to thank God for all he’s given us?
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Second of all, with so many of us working from home or in isolated cubicles, there’s an increasing opportunity to be inundated with “self” and to lose an awareness of other people.
We regard text messaging and social media interactions as genuine human encounters, often staring at our phones when others are sitting right in front of us — opting to focus on a screen rather than a human being who might need us or appreciate some contact.
Yet let’s reflect on the definition of society — it’s an organized group of people who associate with each other for religious, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic or other reasons, or those who live as members of a community.
Our phones can be left in our bags, on our desks, even in another room and checked periodically, as opposed to obsessively.
As our access to digital resources grows — our interaction and involvement in our communities diminishes, leaving the millennial generation on a path toward isolated living. So we’re beginning to lack purpose, the cornerstone upon which society is built.
What do we do about it? How can we get out of our bubbles and into the world around us? And how does disconnecting help our faith life? Here are eight steps to take every day to get out of our own heads — and back into the community. And yes, even needing to articulate these steps is, in some ways, a sad commentary on our times:
1.) Put the phone down.
The generations before us had a large headset tied to the wall, and before that no phone at all — yet they were somehow able to leave their homes without fear of missing out on anything. While it’s convenient and oftentimes safer to carry a phone, we do not have to do this in the most literal sense. Our phones can be left in our bags, on our desks, even in another room and checked periodically as opposed to obsessively.
2.) Make eye contact.
It has often been said that the “eyes are the window to the soul” and this can be terrifying to too many people. It is such an intimate expression to look into someone’s eyes when speaking, much less letting them look into yours. If you’ve lost the art of this (or never fully had it to begin with), try it in your next conversation. With your phone in your pocket and your eyes on the other person, you can make true connection with another person — bringing you back to an undistracted face-to-face reality.
3.) Actively listen and repeat back.
Conversations are about back-and-forth communication, typically with each person sharing an equal amount of information. What would it look like for us to truly listen to the other person? How would that change our dynamics and perspective? Active listening involves not planning a response while the other person is still speaking. It involves hearing the other person fully and repeating back what you’ve heard and asking questions, setting up an opportunity for full engagement (something we often lack in digital interactions). You want to let the other person know you’ve heard him or her, can empathize, and give them hope for resolution.
Make time for those moments of silence. It’s when God speaks to us.
4.) Avoid personal asides.
Ever been a part of a hijacked conversation? You go in to share an exciting bit of news or a concern with someone, only to have that person jump in with their own story or example — leaving you feeling dejected and devalued. Our words have power. Save them. Know that your past experience can help you know how to react — but not how to interject. In instances like this, share your experiences only if they’re relevant or helpful to the other person. Better yet, don’t share them at all. Listen.
5.) Send a card.
Texts are convenient, social media is fun, but snail mail is far more interactive for both parties. In a generation of spam emails and hurried responses, take time to send a handwritten note. It makes a huge difference for you, as you actively do something for someone else, and for the recipient, who receives the kind gesture.
6.) Walk around.
If you work in isolation — at home, in the office, or wherever — take a break every so often to interact with your peers. Chat it up at the water cooler. Call your grandmother on your lunch break. Take a stroll around your neighborhood and wave to your neighbors. Do something to remind yourself that you are not alone.
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7.) Slow down.
There is so much pressure from bosses, deadlines, and assignments that we often forget one of our biggest purposes in live is interpersonal relationships. With a busy schedule (or a day of Netflix) ahead, we can forget that the lives of those around us matter. Slow down and think through what it would look like to take five or 10 minutes to focus on someone else — and then do it! Don’t neglect your responsibilities, of course, but add caring for others to your priorities.
8.) Hear God’s voice in the silence.
So many people struggle to make time for God in their busy schedules, but doing something as simple as turning off the radio in traffic and spending a few minutes in silent prayer can make all the difference. We have constant distractions, and a moment of silence can be so fleeting and rare. Make time for this — God speaks to us in the silence.