Remember the tale of the tortoise and the hare? Of course, you do, you’re not an idiot. When the hare darts off, without a cognitive awareness or plan, the turtle takes it slow and steady and ends up winning the big race. We tell the fable to our children, but many of us are hares bounding about in a hare-world, and losing the races in the relationships of life.
A main culprit in creating this sort of world is social media, through what it has done to our expectations of others and ourselves. In days of old, letter writing was the mode of communication. It was a tactile process that took time and effort . . . and thought. One would show reverence for the recipient and subject of the letter through elevating language—using precise, even verbose, language. Since the writing process took time and resources, and the delivery would also take time, there wasn’t room for vagueness or obscurity—one wished to be clearly understood, and to make the point, whether said point was business, romance, or anything at all really.
Today, we limit language to 140 characters or less. Language is not an ally we can use to make our point clear because the stringent limitations placed on it (and the subsequent dulling of our ability to utilize it effectively).
Limits are not our only foe in this. Time too is against us. Take for instance the nature of Facebook disasters. We see that a friend passed away or that someone gets terrible news. Rather than assess the situation and prayerfully weigh in (or not), what do we do? We race ahead, hare-like. We read what others have put, and hope that we are not too late in the queue to have value in the equation. Due to the journalistic timeframe we impose on ourselves, we no longer are seeking to pour into the person and situation, but instead we are more concerned about how and when we are inserted into things. That or we are so rushed we feel that we cannot think of a response, so we say nothing and beat ourselves up over our callous neglect.
The same holds true for online arguments. They are not thoughtful interchanges like the stuff of fencing, but rather made to be jousts—hard, haphazard, hopeful thrusts. No one learns, no one grows, but someone may get knocked down, and only the fastest ones to the fray even get to participate.
We carry these online expectations into the skin-and-touch world. Often we crumble when we don’t know exactly what to say to the person near us who is undergoing some dilemma or another. Recently I met with four crying people in one day, all bemoaning the fact that they didn’t know what to say in a sensitive situation. “No,” I thought, “You do not know what to tweet. You may know what to say . . . it just may take a bit to find your head and work its way to your tongue.” To expect to quip off an answer to life’s biggest problems is naïve at best, prideful at worst. In truth, it is time and thought—quiet reflection—that reveals solutions to the loftiest of life’s circumstances . . . and this is how it should be.
But it isn’t how it is. We bound off, spouting clichés, barking half-logical retorts, and wondering why we are not growing, why we are not learning, why we are not sharpening others or being sharpened by them.
Here are some modest tips to think about regarding a more thoughtful pace to life and friendships.
1) Recognize when to slow down.
There are things in life we should rattle off—the dinner options for a Monday night, for instance. These aren’t the types of things that should cause consternation or pensive reflection. A friend getting diagnosed with colon cancer, however, shouldn’t be given the same rote treatment. We need to be aware of the gravity of the situation by looking at situations not as puzzles to be solved, but rather as paths to be strolled.
2) When it is time to slow down, slow down.
Push the brakes when the turns in life are ahead. This means we make a choice to run a different race in our friendships. “Hey, this is a big deal, I’m going to give it big deal treatment.”
3) Don’t sprint into the fray.
The temptation is to get there first and say all the clichés that show you care the most. This is selfish and silly. Instead, we need to think things through, and speak into the situation with wisdom rather than just speaking into it because that is what we are expected do.
4) Use social media wisely.
I worked the sound at a wedding once at which “guests” from Germany watched the ceremony via an I-Pad I held from the sound booth. That was a neat occasion for technology to show its best, but had every pew been filled with similar virtual guests, the bride and groom may have, at some point, felt a bit unloved (or at least distant). The truth is there are some things that need to go beyond a screen. Sure, like the example of our German friends from above, sometimes this isn’t an option. But most times it is. We can give a hug. Or make a call. Something human. But why don’t we call? One, it is because “we don’t know what to say.” Well, again, that is because we view it as something for us to fix. Please. NO ONE knows what to say about death and destruction. It wasn’t what we were designed for. This is not a valid excuse because it is not about saying the RIGHT thing at all! It is about being present. Second, usually this excuse is not so much about our fear of saying the wrong thing, but more about a fear to get too messy. A post on the Facebook wall has little chance of getting messy. We hit send and wash our hands of the whole thing. Done and done. But if we call someone, they may cry! They may want us to stay on the line! We might have to call again or even pray with them or visit them! Typically we want to avoid the mess at all cost, so we do the easiest thing possible.
5) Communicate clearly.
Let someone know, “Hey, I don’t know what to tell you about this . . . I’ll touch base in a few days . . . and even then, I may not have any answers.” And then actually think about things, and yeah, touch base! Tell someone you’d like a bit of time to do some research about the topic they are wanting to argue with you about, and maybe encourage them to do the same: “Let’s talk about this further in a week. I’ll read a few articles, and you do the same, and I bet we both learn some things!” We can communicate our intentions clearly upfront, buy some time, and use that time to wrestle with language and find the most fitting words of comfort, or data, or sage advice.
We need to continue to use all the advantages of technology, but we also need to set boundaries that will allow for us to be human for our fellow man and woman. If we keep spouting off as quickly as possible in the shortest way possible, we lose the race and those around us do too.