It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
Albert Einstein made that statement in the 1950's, in a world of black & white TV and telephone party lines. So how much more true is it today when people text instead of talk and instant messaging just adds fuel to our penchant for instant gratification.
But, even if what Einstein said is true, so what?
We suggest that much of what leads us to think the world is in big trouble today is a direct result of this glassy-eyed, ear bud assisted siren call away from our humanity.
Not to put any of our technological wizardry down. We'd rather just put it in its place. Technology makes a number of ways to connect possible that were not previously available. For example, at our university, we use it to connect our doctoral students on a day-in, day-out basis. However, we suggest that the living of life and genuine fulfillment are enhanced by person-to-person contact, without the electronic distractions. Human interaction is the soul of Heartfelt connection and can far outweigh the happiness or excitement of electronic diversion.
Another symptom of this distancing from our humanity is that leadership today seems almost impossible when concern for the common good has been replaced by selfish interest. Civility and seeking solutions of compromise have been replaced with shrill "I want my way or nothing" demands.
We think there is hope however. These things can be transformed when more of us experience our shared humanity.
Here is a quote from a young woman who had just completed a 4-day program for teens from diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. There were 69 kids from areas as diverse as LA's Brentwood and Beverly Hills to South Central and the inner city. It is her remarks that inspired us to write this blog. She said:
...I made friends and shared extremely touching experiences with them, [even though some] I barely talked to. I know not their personalities and everyday lives, but I know their core being. I also learned my core being; I saw myself in a way I have never seen before; full of love, laughter and beautiful qualities that I can appreciate in myself. Now I see myself as a person, someone to be loved and cared for, who deserves the respect I give everyone else. ... Life ... is an ebb and flow. [This program] taught me how to grow from the ebbs, remember the flows and to always continue to love myself, others and life.
Let's remember that this was a group of teens who existed through their smartphones. They walked into the program as isolated individuals with nothing in common and left as a "family" (their words) reveling in their shared humanity and heartfelt connections.
We recently heard a recording of a lecture by a man who, many years ago, had done counseling on Native American reservations. He recounted how he was absolutely flabbergasted to find that when a Native American child died, the parents became distraught and cried in anguish. It was absolutely eye-opening to him. He hadn't really thought about it before, but he assumed that Native Americans would handle their grief differently than his Caucasian, American family would. He was so touched by his connection with them that it became one of the topics he would lecture about through the years.
We suspect -- or at least we hope -- that there are more and more things like the above going on where people have the opportunity to discover their commonality. These are things that can change the world, even if it's by one person at a time.
Maybe you're asking what you can do to test out whether there is value for you in connecting with others. Here's a simple suggestion. Try it and see if you notice a difference.
Once a day, when you're getting ready to text or email someone, call them and talk instead. Better yet, if it's someone at work or someone close to where you are, go over and deliver your message in person. See if there's a natural opening to make physical contact with them -- a handshake or just a touch on the arm. See what it's like to actually make a human connection.
In our wonderful world of cell phones, PDAs and iPods, we believe it's possible to enjoy the benefits of technology and still retain our humanity by connecting with others on a more substantial and more human level. And we think it will make the world a better place.
What do you think?
Follow Gregory Stebbins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gregstebbins