Why Personal Connections Matter - Now More than Ever


Education, like life, is always evolving. And change is accelerating! We live in an amazing time of human innovation. The past 50 years have seen advances in technology at an alarming rate. And I LOVE IT! We currently enjoy the luxuries of those advances every day - instant food, instant delivery, instant communication with anyone across the world. It's nice to live in a time where I can just tap a piece of plastic and get an amazing chicken sandwich delivered right to my door. I love the time we live in.



However, I believe it has all come at a cost. The hyper advanced, amazing technology, instant gratification society we are in has a dark side to it. The dark side is impatience. Isolation. Inner conflict.



I see it in myself. I see it in my students and I see it in my own children and family. The more connected we are to the global communication network, the more disconnected we are to the ground beneath our feet and the souls right beside us.


First off - I am not a clinical psychologist, doctor, researcher, social scientist or historian. I do not have advanced degrees in this subject. But I am a seasoned educator and person in our society - I have observed this phenomena (as I'm sure you have too) and this is my opinion only. Don't come at me and don't take this as gospel - listen, learn, use it or throw it away based on your own knowledge and experience.


But, from my perspective observing schools, and students, and society, I see three specific problems and symptoms of this disconnection. 1 - Impatience. 2 - Isolation. 3 - Lowered Self Esteem and/or Increased Mental Distress. These are troubling symptoms that come at a high cost, but are often swept under the rug or seen as "just a part of life today," and not a category ONE disaster we need to deal with RIGHT NOW. It's like the dam is flooding and breaking and we are shrugging our shoulders and accepting it.


As an educator my focus is always schools, students, and families. The desire to write this comes from that need I see in my students, and how I think parents, families and students can improve these horrifying effects we see - the worst of which would be the increase in suicide that I believe has it's roots in many of these symptoms. But The symptoms I detail, and the solutions, useful to everyone regardless of education background or not. This is a society problem. It's just found under the microscope in schools :)


As I detail my experiences with these problems, Fear not :). Afterward I will be detailing some real things we can cultivate and DO to prevent this negative slide down this dark dark hole. So keep reading - it could be helpful? What do you have to lose?


SYMPTOMS of our MODERN SOCIETY

1 - IMPATIENCE


I love immediate gratification. It's so great, right?! Remember (some of you) when you wanted to watch a movie, but you had to wait until it was live streaming at only 8:00 at night and you could NOT pause or rewind it - it just played and if you missed something you missed it. That was the WORST! Now I have access to ALMOST every movie or TV show ever made! At any time I want, and I can pause it however long I want, rewind it - and after I finish the show I DON'T HAVE TO REWIND IT :). Not to mention I can carry it in my pocket and watch whenever and wherever I go. And I take it for granted I can do this - if my wifi goes spotty I get annoyed. I want it NOW! Right away when I needed it!


Adults and kids alike have become VERY spoiled with immediate gratification. And it is leading to impatience - and one of the more alarming signs of impatience I'm seeing is impatience with EACH OTHER.


The other day I saw a student who was wanting to play at recess with a friend. The friend did not want to play the game that the student wanted to play, so the student chose to go sit alone rather than compromise. A parent told me their child was choosing more and more to play videogames alone by themselves because their friends were not willing to play the video game they wanted to. This trend of "if you won't do it the way I want to I'd just rather be by myself" is a symptom of impatience - and it's leading to Isolation.


SYMPTOMS of our MODERN SOCIETY

2 - ISOLATION

The natural progression from impatience is the inability to compromise for the sake of connection. We tend to more and more choose isolation over not getting what we want. I even see this in my own choices - sitting down at the end of the day I have a choice to watch the show or play the game or do the activity my wife or family wants to do, or keep watching the LONGMIRE marathon I've been captivated with. And I often choose to watch alone rather than engage in connection. To my overall detriment.


Human connection is important. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it's right up there after food, water, shelter and safety. Once we have those things, we need love and acceptance.



More and more people are identifying as "introverted" - myself among them - and that is great! We need to accept that not everyone needs connection all the time, and some people need "me" time. However, we can of course take this too far. Identifying as an introvert does not give you a free pass to be a loner. We need connection - face to face connection.


SYMPTOMS of our MODERN SOCIETY

3 - LOWERED SELF ESTEEM / MENTAL DISTRESS

Probably directly correlated to the isolation and impatience, Students coming to our classrooms are now more and more dealing with complex mental health issues even as low as kindergarten and preschool. Depression is way up. Anxiety is rampant. Self Esteem is at an all time low. I believe these problems come from global awareness vs personal connection - meaning we have a LOT of - TOO MUCH - global awareness and not enough personal, local attention and connection.


Depression exists when we lack hope. Anxiety exists when there is a threat - physical or emotional, perceived or real - that we do not know how to handle or don't feel we have the tools or ability to deal with that threat. Basically the problems we see in the world, the global distress on a daily basis, the threat of "cancellation" or online and social media scrutiny and bullying and backlash, the feeling that ANYTHING could get you "in trouble" or mocked on the internet, uncertainty of economy, uncertainty of employment, and just in general the feeling that we cannot make our bodies, houses, lives, relationships like the ones we see on instagram and tiktok - all lead to feelings of lack of hope, depression, and feelings like we cannot handle all the threats all around us. BECAUSE WE CAN'T.



If we were unaware of all the opinions out there. If we were unaware of the level of problems all over the world. If we did not have to compare ourselves to the IDEAL across the world, we may be much happier. Imagine we only compared ourselves to the 20-30 people in our immediate personal sphere. Imagine we only worried about the jobs and prices and people and safety of the town we lived in. Imagine if we only had to make happy the people we were talking to face to face - not appease an entire world of voices on twitter. There would be less threat to worry about. Anxiety would be much more manageable because there would be only stressors within the actual scope of our abilities to handle!


So - what can we do? We can't just "not use our phones" or "not go on the internet". Honestly most of us need social media to keep up in our jobs, and if you want your kids in soccer you've got to be able to connect with the league on facebook. Barring what some think will be a techno disaster or EMP or event that will force us back to a less modern age (and believe me that sounds good at first but that will bring a whole mess of new problems on our doorstep - thats not the answer. Disaster is not the solution. We are smarter than that. Here are some practical, basic ways we can stave off the wolves of isolation, depression, anxiety, fear, low self esteem and selfishness - or at least help minimize their effects.



SOLUTIONS in our MODERN SOCIETY

1 - SLOW DOWN

My days are fast paced. Students days are similarly paced - especially as we get into higher grades. My High School student is going from 6:00 AM to 9 or 10 at night, and that's before working on homework! He's got work, practice, and once in awhile time with friends. He's supposed to take his little brother to school, help with chores, and keep his grades up. His girlfriend wants some time with him, He needs gas for his truck - it's non stop. That's how my days feel too. Up in the morning and go go go until bedtime. It's killing us slowly.


We need to prioritize. We need to triage our important activities and let go of the ones we can let go. It's okay if the lawn doesn't get mowed today. It's okay to say no to a meeting every once in awhile. It's okay to wait to vacuum till Monday. Let the little things go in favor of the important things - and one of those important things is PERSONAL CONNECTION.




SOLUTIONS in our MODERN SOCIETY

2 - CONNECT

I'm the first to get impatient when the "activity" on the table for the evening is "just sitting around and talking." "What are we going to do tonight?" "Oh just visit." UGH. GROAN. Seems unproductive. Seems pointless. Seems like a waste of time.


Probably my slight, non diagnosed, Attention Deficit spectrum, or maybe just my lack of low cortisol resistance because I look at Tik Tok, but the idea of a prolonged activity that is not "fun" or engaging, that also has no "point" or "objective", sounds literally painful to me. I start to get shooting pains in my stomach and back and legs when I am bored. THAT'S BAD. Do not hear that and think "oh me too!" and think it's okay. Its not good to be that way! :)


So force yourself to connect. Make an appointment to "just chat" once a week. Just sit and chat over coffee on Saturday. Take time to awkwardly talk to your kids about their day. If your neighbor is walking by, actually talk to them. Even if they don't want to. Believe me its better for both of you.


SOLUTIONS in our MODERN SOCIETY

3 - UNPLUG

It sounds so simple, but is so hard to do, but we need to take a pause on the electronics. Not just phones and social media, but video games and Television too. This problem started long before the internet - global radio and television started it all. Taking a pause on the information dump from around the globe, and only receiving information and signals to our brain from local sources - family, friends, neighbors, the trees and dogs and mosquitoes right in your neighborhood, will ground you to reality. Bring you back to what actually is in front of you. And what actually is in front of you - in most cases - is not a wolf or bear or immediate threat to your safety. You are safe. There is not impending doom at your door. It's just the neighbor kid trying to sell candy bars. You can handle that.



CONCLUSION

The fact is we cannot go back to a simpler time. The genie, or the plagues of pandora, have been let loose. We can do things to try and minimize the effects, but just WISHING we lived in the 1980's, or 50's, or 20's, or 1800's just isn't going to do any good. I wish we could go back, but wishing without any reality of hope will lead to more problems, more depression...We need to deal with our current difficulties in the HERE and NOW.


IF we as a society cannot get a handle on these problems, we are on a dead end road to nowhere. If we cannot get a handle on it, student misbehavior - and education as a whole - will decline to the point of in-sustainability. Basically, this is do or die. So let's all get DOING. Because handled correctly, this time in history COULD be the BEST EVER!