I'm staring at a stack of unwritten thank you notes from last May. I know they're there. They nag me every time I sit down at my desk. I've dusted around them for a year. Meanwhile, the dog is barking, the kids are waiting for me at carpool and my work deadlines are looming. I've got excuses as high as my laundry pile.
Yet, in 2014, I somehow managed to read every article published by The Atlantic and The Economist, attend high profile events, send a few thousand Tweets and fill my Facebook feed with a curated stream of trends in the arts and philanthropy. Where does the time go?
An unsent thank you note doesn't make me a bad person, right? I'm the first to bring supper to a neighbor in need, send condolences after a loss and volunteer to help out at school, church or for the lengthy list of nonprofit organizations I support. My world is made up of physical and virtual communities of amazing human beings. I'm blessed with abundant connections, many of them lifelong friendships.
Even so, I'm suffering silently in my desire for deeper, more thoughtful relationships. And I know I'm not alone.
While our capacity to reach out to hundreds or even thousands of "friends" with one touch of a fingertip has increased the breadth of our ability to communicate personally with others, it often reduces the depth of our true caring. First, it was the demise of paper mail (and the aforementioned obligatory thank you notes), and now it seems like we don't even take the time to send a text, an email or a direct message via a social network. Oh, how our digital life has redefined the art of thoughtfulness!
We can engage with large groups of friends and followers in a meaningful way through online posts, but deeper relationships require more time and energy. As we cast our nets wider and wider and expand our scope of influence (don't you love it when a stranger Re-Tweets you from halfway around the world?), we must also clasp hands with our inner circle and provide the much-needed TLC for which each of us is so hungry. We need a Wellness Checkup for our Digital Souls.
The relationships our souls crave take a bit of prioritizing. So what's the answer? I'm not proposing that you reach out systematically to all the contacts in your phone or on your social media profiles. That might take forever (and wouldn't be a very genuine approach). However, if one of your friends is on your mind -- whether he/she is going through a rough time or not -- then just take a few seconds to make a call or send a text -- even a direct message will do. Set up a lunch or coffee or sit on the porch or stoop with a neighbor for a few minutes the next time you pass each other at your mailboxes. This principle should apply to groups, charitable organizations and churches, too. Each of these entities is guilty of contacting its donors and members for money or time while forgetting to acknowledge their service and gifts. Wouldn't it be nice to get a "How are you?" from a friend, fellow parishioner or clergy just for the sake of it?
If the norm for thoughtfulness now comes in a package of 140 characters or less, then so be it. Yet, let us never underestimate the power of our words in this new age of brevity. There are no shorter or easier ways to say "Hello," How are you?," "I'm sorry," "I miss you," "I love you" ... and, of course, "Thank you." Remember that.