Hairdressers know what’s really happening. At her small station with her scissors, shampoos, conditioners my hairdresser operates the equivalent of a confessional. People talk to her; she’s friendly, cheerful, discrete and makes her customers feel good both inside and out. She tells me that across all demographics her customers say they are feeling lonely and isolated. She said that she could understand that feeling with the elderly as friends and relatives move or die, but her younger customers are also talking about their loneliness despite hours spent on their phones texting and talking.
The other day I was chatting with the women in the management office of my apartment complex thanking them for their consistent helpfulness and cheerful attitudes. They in turn thanked me telling me they are usually the recipients of complaints and demands from tenants. They said people now feel entitled to say and demand anything because the internet has changed behavior. They both have teenage children and remarked that their children’s friends are socially awkward and don’t know how to relate to each other. Their comfort zone is their phone and texting. They talked about the difficulties of being good mothers in this new world and the need to help their children learn the skills of forming good relationships. Social media provides connectivity but not community. In my granddaughter’s school in England, the girls would sit across the lunch table texting each other until the school enacted a heavily restricted cell phone policy then suddenly with texting no longer an option they began to talk to each other at lunch.
Relationships take time and tending. They need real time, face to face. Those of us who grew up before the digital age practicing the skills of good relationship over a life time have a gift to offer. In this strange high tech time of virtual relationships the modeling of good relationships is missing at the highest levels. We must take the time with children and grandchildren to help them learn and practice the skills of being present to and for each other, of respectful disagreement, of conversation and imagination, of the art of living in community. It requires being fully, actually present in body, mind and spirit. This Christmas offer the gift of yourself.
“Everyone’s alone—or so it seems to me.
They make noises, and think they are talking to each other;
They make faces, and think they understand each other,
And I’m sure they don’t. Is that delusion?
Can we only love
Something created in our own imaginations?” T.S. Eliot. The Cocktail Party