Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.
― Rainer Maria Rilke
Paula Becker mit Clara Westhoff in Paula Beckers Atelier, um 1899,Paula Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung
Social media gives us the chance to lean on social one-offs. We put something out there, and feel we've communicated. We might come back and respond, or we might ignore reactions to our own words. I've done both.
Our desire to connect is inherent, it comes on the heels of our need for food and shelter. Community, people we can identify with, fit in with, is a part of our humanity. It is primal and it is dangerous. It is dangerous, because it requires our vulnerability.
Vulnerability: open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.
Social media assures a streamlined version of community, and of fitting in. We are this or that. We voted one way or the other. We prefer Nissan over Honda. We assume we are influencing others with our statements. Our influence is less vivid than we imagine though, as we find ourselves on twitter and facebook surrounded by like-minded people. Singing to the choir is what they used to call it.
Where does the grace and depth of conversation come in? Where does the element of personal vulnerability arise? The chance for acceptance or rejection?
Conversation: Informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral
communication between persons.
This walks us back to the idea of face to face communication. Our seeking out other people, who may or may not agree with us, our choosing to be vulnerable. This vulnerability is what teenagers fear, and what we are less and less comfortable with as we get older. But it is necessary if we are going to hear one another, really hear what another person has to say.
Today, I will watch the news, check my emails, submit a manuscript, and drive my car. None of these activities involve conversing face to face with anyone. Luckily, I have a big family and am forced to be in the world daily, to deal with immediate problems, to offer opinions and to ask questions.
I am inherently a hermit, so I understand better than most how easy it is to hide inside my electronics. Online I can be clever and opinionated, emotional and hard-headed. I can be whoever I imagine myself to be. This is part of the problem, the hubris that comes from not seeking out in-person communication. I need real, in-person feedback to know how much of my self-image is real and how much is a figment of my imagination. I need humility.
Humility: the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.
This is not a slap on the wrist for enjoying social media. This is a quiet request to think about what we did before the Internet became more than a research tool. If you're old enough to remember, what did you do to communicate with someone before the Internet, before texting? Did you call them, stop by their house, write them a note and slip it in a mailbox? Did you buy your books in a brick and mortar bookstore instead of through Amazon? Did you take art lessons in a studio instead of from youtube videos?
This past week, I finally got to writing thank yous for Christmas . . . super late . . . I also had a few copies of our poetry journal to mail out . . . and personal notes . . . and a birthday package. The more I wrote, the more joy I took in thinking of the child or adult who was going to be thrilled to get something concrete in the mail. I've had poets write back in shock that we sent out thank you notes to our Tiger's Eye Press contest poets. These simple exchanges remind me that deeper communication involves my time and effort, and always has a physical component.
Physical: of or relating to the body.
We all crave recognition, we all want to belong to the larger world and yet feel important within our own circle of friends. Yet we are moving away from touch and response, from looking into someone's eyes while we converse with them. Have you been at a function and looked up from your phone to see that everyone else is looking down at theirs? What are we giving up for this instant gratification that costs us nothing on the scales of vulnerability? What part of our own humanity are we losing?
We can too easily toss our opinions out into the electronic world. We can say what's on our mind and shut the door on anyone who doesn't agree with us. We can call them ignorant, and further entrench ourselves in a narrow view of the world, political or otherwise. These actions all require very little emotional commitment, and an immediate feedback that makes us feel we've communicated. And we have, but on a very shallow level.
The time for conversation is now. The time for conversation with a real person in real time is now, while we can still tell the difference between superficiality and connection. Call your friend, call your father. Text them. Contact them and ask them out for lunch. Or even more vulnerability-worthy, ask them to your house, open your front door and welcome them inside your private world.
Door: a movable, usually solid, barrier for opening and closing an entranceway.
True communication, the give and take of in-person discussion is fading. As we retreat into our electronic pods, the real danger is becoming dehumanized. And then it is easier to judge the liberal, the conservative, the person who in-person might explain their stance, their feelings, and their hard work to get to where they are. You may not agree with their viewpoint, but in-person you'll see their lowered eyes, hear the slight quiver in their voice, and you'll have empathy with this human being sitting across from you.
We're all learning how much media, social and otherwise, we can stomach. We need to consciously choose what resonates with us and what challenges us, and where we fall on the spectrum of vulnerability and overload. It may take an actual day or two of withdrawal from all of our electronics to realize how much we've come to depend on them for social interaction.
Being fully human is being fully vulnerable. Being fully vulnerable is being present emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and just as important, physically.
(from Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, # 29)
Let This Darkness Be Your Bell Tower
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.”
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) from In Praise of Mortality, trans. and ed. Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows,
Riverhead Books, 2005
My writing often deals with the environment, my poetry filled with allusions to natural and man-made disasters. I have unlimited hope though; there is just too much wonder in this world to become a defeatist. To quote Margaret J. Wheatley, '"Hopelessness has surprised me with patience."