I’ve written about social media and how authentic, person-to-person communication is irreplaceable, even by Skype, tweeting, texting and Facebook albums.
9/11 reminds me of another kind of connection we sometimes actually avoid. We often go out of our way to avoid painful feelings. We don’t want to watch the TV today, because we will relive and feel rather than remember.
To actually feel is to be intimately connected, and frankly, it’s hard to be intimately connected with pain. We don’t know what to do with it. Daniel Goleman in his book, “Social Intelligence” talks about how we are wired through mirror neurons to feel together, to experience empathy. Sometimes we would rather avoid empathy.
I work with families of kids with chronic illness. Often parents of children with serious illness find themselves isolated, because friends withdraw. It may be due to so many factors: not knowing what to say, feeling helpless at not knowing what to do, perhaps the intuitive sense that this will put them in touch with the vulnerability and fragility of their own families. Sometimes friends may blame the parents: “If they only set better limits/didn’t push so hard/followed this diet, this wouldn’t have happened.” This is a way of hanging onto the sense that if we do the right things, bad things don't happen.
I’ve seen teens abandoned by friends because of a loss or ill sibling. The teen talked too much about it, needing support. No one really wanted to keep on listening. Or they didn’t talk about it, but looked drawn and pained, and this “turned off” friends. These teens felt that they had to be inauthentic, “put on a happy face,” if they were to still be liked.
This happens between husbands and wives. There is a family crisis, and one partner throws himself or herself into work or withdraws, while the other partner is completely involved in managing the crisis. It’s common that we handle anxiety in different ways. Resentment and distance create walls in the relationship if we’re not careful to find ways to come together to weather crises.
It’s in these very times that we need to step up for each other. Having a community of caring matters. There’s nothing to say but “I care.” There’s nothing to do but be there.