DISCONNECTED IN A HYPER-CONNECTED WORLD
As I was making my way around the Reservoir in Central Park yesterday I saw an adorable little person sitting in her stroller (probably about two and a half) talking a mile a minute to her mommy who was not looking or listening. She was texting what seemed to be a lengthy message on her iPhone. Eventually, the little girl just stopped talking and looked away. "Oh, wow," I said to no one in particular, "what a waste." There went what might have been a small, special moment between them...a moment to connect. The little girl had been so animated. But her mom had been so...otherwise engaged.
"Otherwise engaged" happens all the time now - between parents and children, between husbands and wives, among old friends, new lovers, co-workers - in meetings, at the dinner table, at intimate cocktail parties - in any situation you can imagine. We just aren't looking at each other, or listening to each other the way we used to; we're seduced by the quick electronic response, the possibility of some hot news item, the multi-tasking imperative, the ability to be everywhere and everything at once. But of course, in the process we risk not being much of anything to anyone...at any particular time.
According to a recent WSJ article by Sue Shellenbarger, "Just Look Me in the Eye Already," the decline in eye contact is a real and growing problem. Adults, the article points out, make eye contact 20-60% of the time in a typical conversation when they should be making it 60-70% of the time. Hey, if you don't look at someone, you can't connect with them, if you don't connect, you can't form an emotional bond, if you can't form a bond, you can't influence, if you can't influence, you might lose: the relationship, the deal, the vote. Eye contact says: You're the only person I'm listening to right now. If you look down or away, especially if someone is telling you something important (like that adorable little girl was trying to tell her mommy...) you can come off as aloof...or as if you have something more important to do...and someone more important to do it with.
Experts attribute the political success of "The Great Communicator" himself, President Reagan, to his ability to connect with people. "Connecting" can't happen without sincerity. And sincerity can't happen without eye contact. It’s said that President Reagan never took his eyes off the person he was talking with. That didn't mean a blank stare, that meant an honest, animated, engaged "listening" that required "looking" at the person...
So next time you have the option to phone it in...or show up, to speed type the text...or listen to and actually look at your little (or big) person, don't disconnect. Sure, you might turn out to be the most efficient person on the block, but I doubt if you'll be the most fulfilled. Plus, you never know when all that child-like, stream-of-consciousness babbling might turn into golden nuggets of unforgettable wisdom.
“Only connect!” E.M. Forster, Howard’s End
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns©2013 All Rights Reserved
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