Two of my favorite texts from university explore the impending chaos that would erupt with the fall of the Judeo-Christian ethos. In The Second Coming, Yeats states that "mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." In The Greatest Danger, Nietzsche states that "the greatest labour of human beings hitherto has been to agree with one another regarding a number of things, and to impose upon themselves a law of agreement regardless of whether these things are true or false." Nietzsche loathed Christianity but admitted that without agreement to a common set of societal mores, madness and chaos would ensue.
We are now here. Now-here. Nowhere.
Technology has trumped Christianity as a belief system, and there is no longer an agreed-upon protocol for etiquette in general and for communications in particular. People correspond though text messages, email, IM, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and telephone -- and the occasional snail mail or fax -- and there are no established rules. For the younger generation in particular, it is the wild wild west.
When historians look back on the former United States of Amerigo Vespucci, they will certainly find text messaging to be as efficacious as smoke signals. As a therapist I have witnessed countless couples break up due to misguided, misfired, misunderstood, and mistimed text-messages.
I have heard that 90 percent of communications are provided by visual cues; for me, the tone of someone's voice is equally important. Text messaging and email convey little to sink one's teeth into and can go askew in the blink of an eye.
I'm old school. Years ago I spent weeks combing through the hundreds of pages of Rilke's and Lou Andreas-Salome's hand-written letters and felt the brilliance, passion, wit, poetry, integrity, love, and dedication therein. Correspondence, like therapy, can be art. Or at least artful.
Personally, I espouse a doctrine I call Medium Fidelity. If somebody -- anybody -- telephones me, then I telephone him or her back. If somebody emails me, then I email him or her back. I try to remain faithful to the medium that the sender employed as a sign of decorum. And I try to respond to all emails and telephone calls within 24 hours. I teach workshops on authentic happiness, relationships and communications so I cannot afford to be a hypocrite in my personal life. You have no idea how many potential clients are surprised with joy when I answer the telephone or return their calls.
"Oh, you're the first psychotherapist who bothered to return my phone call," I have heard more than a few times.
Here in Los Angeles I've been on the receiving end of fellow wounded healers and rampant do-gooders canceling imminent meetings via email so many times that my ears now hear "Let's get Kombucha next week!" as "The check is in the mail!" Why do people feel compelled to bother organizing putative meetings that they know they are going to cancel? Shouldn't there be a mandatory course given to young people on business etiquette, respect, efficient communications, and scheduling? Most people would agree with Woody Allen that "95 percent of life is showing up," and yet so many people today can't manage to do even that.
For me it's about the world I want to live in. Call me idealistic, but I want to create a world where people communicate respectfully, compassionately and authentically with each other. And in this realm, technology -- currently -- is not our friend.
Technology is not our friend because our minds are meaning-making machines, and our current ways of communicating are vague and leave enormous room for misinterpretation. For instance, if a passionate girlfriend is in the middle of a text message conversation with her new lover and he drops off, she assumes that mettle more attractive has garnered his attention. If one is in the middle of a business negotiation and the other party stops emailing for a few days should it be assumed that this is a tactical move or that the other party has lost interest or has gone on vacation?
I don't know what the solution is. Like Yeats, I cannot imagine the next world order in a positive light.
But, as I state in "Mindfulness for Depression," I am old enough to remember a time when a phone call was like a gift and all the people in the home would run to it in anticipation. In just 40 short years telephone calls have become nuisances. Now we rely on text messaging and emails so that we can be afforded the luxury of multitasking.
Is it any wonder why so many business ventures end in lawsuits and relationships end in heartache?