So here I sit, morning coffee in hand, sun streaming through my east facing bedroom window, and I am transported. Uplifted, taken delicately by the hand to another place, where there is no nastiness, no anger, no sorrow. Just kindness, connection.
I can see the hills in the background, hear the seagulls and the remainder of the garden birds who are still around. Sunday mornings are quieter than other mornings and the periwinkle wash of the sky, clear, domed overhead and offering unlimited possibilities provides a backdrop to the day. It could be late Spring, except for the empty branches on the trees at my eye level. The scenery is cathartic, but it is, ironically, the technology in my hand that is creating the feeling of wellbeing, of belonging and of being heard and seen.
To wake to a twitter feed of positive messages, recognising and aligning experiences, to know that out there in the wide, wild world are other people who face the same things that I have faced, who share their struggles and successes, who support each other and offer solidarity across the oceans, lifts my heart like nothing else.
When we started the Re-humanising Revolution blog it was with the intention of providing a safe space for others to share stories, hardship and achievements, to hold that space as a place we could all enter and know that we were heard, and understood. I never dreamed that I would benefit from this endeavour so much, that in reaching out to others who share the same aim of supporting each other, of telling honest and heartfelt stories of their own, I would find such warmth and personal validation.
Anyone who knows me will attest to the poor relationship I have with technology. I hate it. My mantra is often, “come back to me when it is foolproof, and in the meantime, go away.” I am of an age where computers and IT were not on the curriculum when I was at school, and having been given no training whatsoever in the use of these machines, I am self taught, and limp along being able to use simple word processing and the internet. But I have no technical skills to speak of and absolutely no interest in gaining any.
But here’s the irony. Without my smart phone, I would never have “met” the wonderful people I now know via Twitter. Amazing people, in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, South Africa, Europe, the Far East as well as from nearer to home but still beyond my geographical reach. People in professions related to but not coincidental with mine, people who have devoted their professional lives to supporting others but in workplaces I could never reach physically. People I had previously only dreamed existed.
As a child I was addicted to the Lone Pine adventure series of books by Malcolm Saville. The core of these stories was friendship, loyalty and love, a desire to do right and achieve good in a post war world much simpler than ours. The characters were not perfect, each having their own quirks, but they became my childhood playmates. I was never lonely when I was with them. We shared a view of the world that I struggled to find elsewhere. Saville had religious faith and was an avid nature lover and whilst his books have been criticised for being middle class and twee, the fundamental relationships of respect and kindness were what I held onto as I grew up.
I guess some would find it unsurprising that having grown up with imaginary friends, I am now so uplifted by virtual contacts. As I reflect on this, I realised that geography is such a limiting factor in the way we have traditionally sought connection with others. Even if we have moved around our country as I have done, even if we travel to other countries to work, as I also do, we are still severely limited by time and place. We meet a fraction of the number of people there are in the world and with only a percentage of that fraction do we have the opportunity to grow a relationship. I love my friends dearly, but circumstance and convenience are usually the main denominators in our ongoing lives together.
I love meeting new people too. Each new person is a whole new adventure waiting to happen, but we are all busy, so rooted in our lives, connected already to more people than we can effectively do justice, that we end up like the proverbial ships that pass in the night. And so we return to the safety of the small groups with whom we are familiar – families, school friends, work friends, partner’s friends, neighbours. People who are close and easy to access. But, and here is my question for the day, how far do we really connect with these people?
Families have their own rituals, the observation of special dates in the calendar: birthdays, Christmas, Easter, other faith days, Mothers Day, Fathers day, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, holidays, school plays, fetes, festivals, bank holidays, weddings, stag parties, hen parties, christenings, bar mitzvahs, commemoration days, grandparents days…..some families have few days free after filling their diaries with all of these. School and college friends may have regular meet ups, work colleagues have quarterly events – dinner, bowling, paint balling. Then there are the multiple family gatherings, turn taking, picnics, lunches, hordes of children rampaging, harassed cooks, tipsy parents, chargrilled barbecues. Our lives can be filled with social events, and even in lockdown the plethora of family quiz nights, virtual dinner parties, zoom dates continued to such an extent that some people complained they were busier than they had been before the restrictions.
But how much real connection happens at these events? What depth of conversation is had? Do we really catch up with one another or do we just fill our calendars so we don’t have time to think?
With one group of friends, lovely as they are individually, when we six adults and five children get together there is no talk behind the transactional: Would you like a coffee? Who is for wine? Please pass the bread. Sometimes I want to scream: “You are our friends! We like you. We love your children. So why do we only talk in words of one syllable and sentences of one clause?”
What is this irony that has reduced face to face communication to the boring and mundane, and resulted in the only meaningful connections happening on line, with strangers? Is it a result of geography, the fact that if there are perhaps 100,000 kindred spirits out there, I will only meet 1 face to face but possibly 10 on line? Or is something else at play? Are we more able to be honest, open and real, when we are not in front of someone physically? When we know they are out of reach? And if so, what stops us from being like that in person?
Maybe we project our best sides on line? We can put down our phones if we don’t feel we are in a place to comment appropriately – not that all of us are able to use that self filter; many Twitter users shoot from the hip without thinking, but that is a topic for another day. Is the pressure of synchronicity the reason we don’t go into deeper waters when face to face? We can’t run away, put away the medium and rethink the message in time? So we just don’t go there in the first place.
I guess all of these are factors. Communication styles are bound to change over time, and there is no denying my gratitude for the wonderful exchanges I have enjoyed virtually. Over lockdown I have realised that people I might meet physically are not necessarily people with whom I can sustain lengthy and meaningful conversations. People we call friends are sometimes no more than accidents of circumstance. And yet those we connect with on line, have only met through twitter and maybe a follow up zoom call or two, spoken with through emails, fleeting but meaningful messages of support, recognition and solidarity – somehow those people feel closer, those connections more meaningful. Maybe the a-synchronicity of technologically mediated communication gives us the time to pause and think and reflect and that gives us the courage to speak from the heart?
It’s food for thought.
Meanwhile, I am going back to my social media, the twitter connections, the Instagram pictures and comments. As Sunday mornings go, it’s a lot more uplifting than reading the papers.