Earlier today as I was about to head out for my weekend long run, it started to drizzle. Not knowing if it was going to turn into a harder rain, I stepped back inside for a few minutes to wait it out. During that time, a good friend called to catch up and share some good news (great news, really) that is so many ways life giving and life changing. It was encouraging and a blessing to hear how after months and years of struggles and prayers, things are moving down a positive and right direction. The excitement and happiness was palpable even over the phone; energy and life was evident in him that I haven’t heard in a while.
It started recently for him one restless night as he took some time to get away and reflect. The next day, he got the news about the doctors finding a kidney donor match (yes Dave, this post is about you.) All of this gave me pause tonight as much as the light rain gave me pause from doing my run this afternoon to take some time to journal and do some reading and reflect on my own life. Schedules don’t always go according to plan, but in those moments when you’re interrupted and plans are shifted, be open and listen to what’s going on. Often it’s in those unexpected and unplanned moments that we can be changed the most.
November has become a difficult month for me. Not only does it mean Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season that follows it, but it also means my birthday “season” has arrived and turning another year older. However, it doesn’t mean I need to look any older. In the last couple years, that usually also means a very quiet, introspective, and solitary season.
Birthdays, much like everything else in America, has turned into an affair that calls to be celebrated for far longer than what the calendar shows – one day. People have “birthday weeks,” “birthday months,” or “birthday seasons” to keep the party going. I don’t get it. Why do people want so much attention for just being themselves? I don’t really want it, but I don’t want to be completely forgotten either. The last few years, the days leading up to and my actual birthday are internally dark. Who will remember? Will anyone (parents and best friend excluded)?
I’ve had a few particularly emotional birthday-days that have brought intense feelings of loneliness and disconnect in my time because I felt people weren’t there in any real capacity. I’ve never been one to plan my own party. Nor do I want to be the center of attention. If friends want to coordinate a party, I’ll probably do it. As years go by, though, people have other life commitments like spouses, kids, jobs, etc. I get it. I assume they’re all too busy for me, so I make due on my own. In my head, I’ve figured this must be part of being single when most of your community isn’t. My last two actual birthdays I’ve had dinner alone. While not altogether the worst, perhaps it wasn’t the best either.
Why are my birthdays such internally difficult affairs? Why do I feel such loss at the thought of people forgetting about it and simultaneously cringe when I get a “Happy birthday!” greeting or Facebook wall post? A birthday greeting isn’t something that’s earned, but a simple acknowledgment of my existence and nothing else. Why not want any focus on me for me?
Maybe that’s (a small) part of the problem. Throughout the year, I constantly feel like I’m having to prove my worth wherever I go and with whatever I do. Then when my birthday comes, it requires nothing of me, and it partially freaks me out. I’m just supposed to “be, ” and that’s enough for a day. Maybe that’s supposed to be enough every day.
So goes another year and another birthday, partially unscathed. I hope with this new year brings more wisdom and being more OK with getting older and celebrating life.
*This post is not intended to invoke any belated happy birthdays or anything similar.
In a recent blog post, I began sharing some thoughts on challenges and the lack of depth present in our communication. I’d like to share more on this topic and maybe even open up a dialog here on how we can work to improve how we interact with one another.
It’s a two-way street, people. One of my growing frustrations with “conversations” is how infrequently we’re able to have them in a manner that hasn’t devolved to mere statements of information about your life. I’ve overheard and been part of so many chats with friends that are comprised of one-off statements that have typically have little to no connection to what was just said. Person A says, “I was thinking about trying out this new burger place this week.” Person B replies, “That’s cool. I went for a 3 mile run last night. Man, it was tough, but felt really great to finish it.” I’m saddened that we are so focused on getting our thought out that we don’t even process or acknowledge what our friend is trying to share.
What would be so difficult about Person B pausing to ask about this burger place and why his friend wants to go there before changing topics and talking about his run? Honestly, very little at the surface. However, what it requires is that you put your own needs aside for a second and engage in what interests your friend. Who knows, if you stop to learn more about what your friend is sharing, you may find that it actually interests you too! What’s the lesson here? Listen to people once in a while. Ask questions that clarify and confirm that you hear what’s being said. You may also find a level of depth in others that may surprise and delight you. There’s a lot more to people than they’re willing to let on until they’re asked a couple simple questions.
Is there an echo? A bigger challenge in finding enjoyable and thoughtful discourse with others is watching and listening to people talking about stuff they read online or see on TV without a thought to call their own. Call it The Echo Effect. Most frequently I see this effect take hold in the tech world, mostly because that’s where I spend a lot of my time and energy. Countless blogs and Twitter accounts find one piece of news, post about it and all link back to the original source or link to one of the other “news” blogs. I’m pretty convinced that if you were to remove all content that duplicated the original source, you could save over 50% of that vast wealth of information on the Internet. We don’t need more parrots echoing what’s still ringing in my ear from 3 days ago.
I don’t want regurgitated data; I want analysis and interpretation and a fresh perspective. I want to see us be capable of have meaningful conversation about politics, tech, culture, religion, and whatever you want to talk about. I want us to have original thought. The next time some news article or TV show catches your eye and you want to share it with me, be prepared to tell me why it caught your eye. What resonated with you, whether it be positive or negative? What kind of impact do you think it will have your life? Or mine? Or on the surrounding culture?
So what can we can take away from my ramblings? Here’s the bulleted version for the article skimmers:
Listen to people.
Ask questions of others. Don’t just talk about yourself.
Analyze the information you take in. Have your own thoughts! Don’t just repeat it to others. You’re not helping anybody.
We don’t have time to waste babbling on about nothing. Let’s make our time interacting and conversing worthwhile to both of us. I hope you join me in wanting and practicing interactive and thoughtful discourse.
You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.
Warning: this post is somewhat lengthy. I hope you can hold your attention for long enough and that it mostly makes sense.
A couple weekends ago, I met up with a friend for dinner and drinks to catch up I hadn’t seen in a while. Over the course of the evening, conversation ran the course of the normal “what’s new with you?”, “how’s the job?”, and “any new projects around the house?” These are all usually pretty safe topics for people to discuss, usually without the need to expose yourself to anything beyond the surface or that require much pause for thought before opening our mouths.
However, the bigger challenge facing our friendships and relationships with people relates to our ability to have real conversation. All too frequently our communication with one another, whether it be in person or online, deteriorates into meaningless chatter. The worst part of it is most of us don’t notice or simply don’t care that in the middle of all this noise, nobody’s really saying anything at all. If there is anything being said, how much of the content is only about yourself? How often do you find yourself asking your friends questions about anything?
Interactive and thoughtful discourse is lost on us. We turn our “conversations” with one another into a handful of categories, such as:
Let me tell you about myself and I don’t really care what you think of it unless you like it/agree with it
Let me tell you about what I heard on TV/read online
Let me try to one-up you with my incredible wit and really funny insights into the world. Likely I’ll be posting these things on Facebook and Twitter, too. Please like everything I say and do on FB, BTW. Thx!
There is plenty of evidence to show our American culture has been pretty self-centered for a really long time and more anecdotal proof arrives by the truckload daily. What of social media’s place? Isn’t it supposed to connect us in ways we never imagined? I’m a fan of the services out there as much as the next guy, but take a step back and ask yourself “why do I share what I share online?” If we all admit it to ourselves, we all want some level of attention. Connecting with friends is a great cover letter for social networking’s initial purposes, but we all know there’s a little “look at me” component. And maybe a little bit of that is OK. Moderation in everything, right? At least that’s how the phrase goes.
I think part of the problem lies in the mediums we use to communicate. (This is where part of the conversation with my friend starts to come into play.) Our conversation turned to how infrequently our interactions with each other mentally stimulate us now. My friend “C” was telling me how he had this really engaging chat over a few hours about his friend’s business idea. When you come away from a conversation energized, you know you actually got your mind – and depending on the topic, maybe your heart – connected to what was going on. If we don’t feel anything, why are we wasting our time on it in the first place?
So C and I continued our chat and lamented a bit about the lack of genuineness in social network interactions like those on Facebook and Twitter. We debated possible reasons for this. For me, one of the primary drivers is that both platforms ultimately don’t allow the space for depth. This shouldn’t be a surprise on Twitter. Really, how deep can you get with 140 characters? And while Facebook’s platform gives you more characters for updates and that “personal” space to share with friends, your profile turns into quick sound bytes and quips about topics that rarely give much insight into who you truly are, especially when you have a larger and larger friend list that makes you feel like you’re yelling into an already overcrowded room. We’ve lost the ability to communicate quietly but with true depth and instead only know how to barely stand in the shallow end of the pool.
In a future post, I will continue to share my thoughts on conversational styles, discourse on topics, and more. Thanks for making it this far. Perhaps you’ll come back for Part 2.