Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Disengaged - Redux

I've been pondering this post a lot lately, remembering back to when I wrote it. I am actually a little concerned I have become guilty of it myself... a little too much Facebook, a new phone that enables me to log on and check out anywhere I go. I need to chew on it, perhaps reevaluate my priorities. Maybe I'm not the only one, so here's a little food for thought. Originally posted October 1st of last year. For your consideration...


It means "released or detached: WITHDRAWN"

You've heard the saying "a picture is worth a 1,000 words"? Have you had the experience where you have observed something in your daily life that spoke such volumes, you wish you had a camera to snap a picture to share? Well, I had that experience yesterday.

Tuesdays are my late morning to come into work, so it was probably about 11:30 and I was driving down the main street behind my house. As I was stopped at the stoplight a family of four was entering the crosswalk to cross the street in front of my car. It was a mom and a dad and two little girls I would guess were probably about 4 and 2 years old. It had the potential to be a precious picture, this little family out on a walk, but instead what I saw hurt my heart.

The youngest girl was in a stroller, one of those umbrella styles with a little canopy over the top to guard her from the son. The older girl was walking holding her daddy's hand, he had her sort of back and slightly behind him. Mom, pushing the stroller was on her cell phone, in fact she was pushing with one hand and using the elbow on the side that held the phone to guide her off the sidewalk. Dad had earplugs in his ears I assume attached to an iPod or MP3 player piping music into his ears. The littlest girl was trying to lean forward to peak up and around to see her parents and the older girl seemed just to be trying to keep up, looking at Daddy who other than his hand holding hers seemed oblivious to her presence.

It speaks volumes about the state of our society today. 10 years ago when my husband and I were youth workers, teenagers were a challenge, but the key was being able to touch their hearts. If you could reach them, reveal to them your sincere interest and care, you laid a stone to build the foundation of a relationship. We used to have dozens of kids come over and just hang out. We'd play games, barbecue carne asada, have sleepovers, parties. We'd connect. 10 years later, these young people are getting married, having babies, starting careers, and Neal and I are blessed to still have connections with these kids. IT varies in degree, some remain very close, others more casually, some we don't see except at weddings and baby showers, but when we do, there is a connection, one that was built a decade ago, but was built to last.

This past June my teenage son Jacob had a party for his junior high friends at the end of the school year. We brought them over to my parents big wonderful "party house" and we barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs and we had games, all the same tools. But touching their hearts, making a "connection" was harder than it used to be. The teens themselves seem harder to reach, distant, more jaded. Now granted in the course of the last ten years I may have lost a few cool points because instead of helping the youth escape from their own parents, I am now the parent myself, but I think there is more to consider.

At that party as we were playing games and hanging out, those cell phones and MP3 players were present. You could be in the midst of a conversation with a young person and they would be half listening to you and busy sending text messages to someone else at the same time. Another young person would sit off in a corner listening to their music and never entering in to the group or activity, or quitting if it becomes any kind of challenge and just retreat back into solitude. I've seen it with my own children, we'll all be together as a family, headed out to lunch or to church and Jake would be test messaging a friend, Ethan is playing his gameboy, Victoria has her CD player playing in her ear. We're all together, it's family time, and yet each of my children has disengaged from each other and from me and Neal.

Cell phones have gone from the status of luxury to necessity. Everyone has one. I've stood in grocery lines where the customer doesn't even interact with the teller beyond handing them cash because they are in the midst of a telephone conversation. Have you ever been walking through a store or such and thought someone said something to you only to realize they have a bluetooth in their ear? Suddenly you're embarrassed and uncomfortable because you've interrupted them? Where has common courtesy and the art of niceties and polite conversation gone? No wonder more and more stores seem to be moving towards self-checkout lines. We complain customer service has gone by the wayside, but what about the courtesy of the customer?

Don't get me wrong, I see the value of something like a cell phone. We gave Jake one the Christmas he was in 7th grade. At an age where he is growing in freedoms in a world that simply is not as safe as it used to be (especially in Southern California), there is benefit to being able to reach him. He walks a couple miles home from school each day, I want to know he's on his way and made it safe. It has it's purpose. But my daughter told me the other day about her classmate who has a cell phone - she's in the first grade! What purpose could that have?

I think back to that family on the street. They were completely together in the physical sense, and completely separated in every way that mattered. How can we touch hearts and impact lives if face to face communication is completely hindered by modern technology. How can we capture the hearts of our young people if we can't even fully capture their attention? I think whenever Jake has another party, I'll collect cell phones at the door the way they used to collect keys at parties where alcohol was served.

I think first and foremost we have to set an example ourselves. I challenge you, next time your cell phone rings while you're in line at the store or while you're talking to one of your children, push the "ignore" button, complete your conversation or transaction, and thereby relaying to that person, they matter, they are valuable to you. Next time you're chatting with a girlfriend and that text message tone comes along, let it sit, wait for a moment and don't immediately disengage from the conversation to respond. Show people they matter.

I'm guilty too, but I saw what I saw and it made me stop and think. Let's put down the cell phones, turn them off at home, leave them in the car at the store. Let's have our kids put them away for the night when they get home. Isn't that the beauty of voice mail? And not just the cell phones, but the iPods and the gameboys, instead of disengaging, let's unplug! Stop and think next time, am I invested, in the people and situation around me? If I'm not, what message am I sending? And I don't mean a text.

Can you hear me now?

No comments: