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Over the years, I have noticed the way people interact with each other is changing. It is probably partly due to the massive influx of mobile phones and other digital appliances, rendering virtual communication almost more important than interaction between real live people.
Is it only me who finds it weird that people will sit hunched over their phones at a party – completely absorbed in their own little world – when what they are ACTUALLY doing is updating their social media to advertise the fact that they are ‘At a party!’ ‘Having a fabulous time!’ ‘Drinking wine with so-and-so!’ ‘Feeling amazing!’ *smiley face*…
The danger of these cheery soundbites we post on social media is that it gives a completely unrealistic image of us. We assume that our neighbour is ecstatically happy every day because he posts photos of his family smiling at the seaside. We assume that a friend isn’t suffering from depression because she checked into a Wetherspoons yesterday with 6 other tagged friends. These assumptions threaten our sense of community. We don’t bother to meet up face to face, because we already think we know everything about them.
Conversation is an odd one too. When meeting new people, it feels natural to ask questions – what do they do for a living? Are they local? How do they know the host?
And more often than not, I find people simply answer the question. No questions asked in return. No elaborating and allowing the discussion to grow, tree-like, into other branches, other spheres.
Maybe I should take this personally! Maybe they just don’t want to talk to me! But I find this tends to happen even between good friends, loved ones and family.
Sometimes weeks can go by without having a proper, challenging, interesting conversation; weeks during which the essence of my personality – the living spirit which makes me ME, and not someone else – seems to drain slowly into the ground. It may not even occur to me why I’m vaguely dissatisfied, disappointed and flat. I will wonder why I feel isolated and lonely, even though I’m surrounded by people 24/7.
Being a teacher mitigates this somewhat… After all, each day with a class is totally different, unpredictable and exciting. Each lesson is a blank canvas upon which I can paint a picture, with varying degrees of clarity.
The best lessons are the ones where children ask me questions. When I am asked a question – whether about music, a skill, an event or a concept – it challenges me. It makes me plunge into my personal resources of knowledge, stir things up, and see what rises to the surface. Providing an answer that can shed light, stimulate new avenues of thought in a way that is relevant and interesting for the pupils keeps my mind sharp – it allows me to be the unique person who was employed to do this unique job.
Whether we are working, in whatever field of employment; whether we are at home doing the chores, we are constantly doing things that any warm, able-bodied human can do. In fact, our itinerary of driving the kids to their various clubs, cooking endless meals, grappling with a bottom-less basket of laundry, and emptying bins over and over, could be done by anyone, or even a robot! It doesn’t have to be me. It doesn’t have to be Hubby. Anyone with the requisite number of limbs and a driving licence could do these daily tasks.
So if we do these humdrum tasks, and we don’t take part in ONE SINGLE THING that gives us the opportunity to be individuals, day after day, how can our lives feel fulfilling and special?
This is partly why I blog.
I have been asked many times already how I can think of something to write about every single day. I know it’s only day 30, but I can still sense that all these words so far are only the tip of the iceberg.
Blogging gives me the chance to tell the world what I think about. With a blog, you don’t even have to wait to be asked. And even if those words fall into the void of cyberspace without being heard, it doesn’t matter. It relieves a very profound need inside me to articulate what I feel and think about the world – about life. It reminds me that I am an individual. It reminds me that I am more than a breathing, moving human automaton.
What if our conversations started, not with ‘What did you do today?’ or ‘Did you like the film?’ – dead end, closed questions with specific answers – but rather with ‘What do you think about [insert subject]?’, or ‘Why do you think [insert event] happened?’; what if we asked questions that indicated a wish to understand someone better, or made people feel like their opinions are important and relevant?
I think we would realise that all the people we connect with, on a daily basis, have a plethora of memories, experiences and emotions that we simply don’t give them – or us – credit for. That our lives would be richer and more meaningful if we could find out something new about them and about ourselves.
A member of my extended family is often teased for her tendency to give new acquaintances ‘The Spanish Inquisition’. She can have someone’s life story out of them within 10 minutes of meeting them. But her superpower is knowing what questions to ask. People like telling her about themselves, and she has a prodigious memory for recalling the minutiae of their lives. That’s not a skill to be mocked. That’s awesome.
I think we should all ask more questions. Why not ask someone a question today? See if you learn something edifying, or start a satisfying conversation…
It’s worth a try.