We live in some extraordinary times as it relates to our civility. Here in the United States, the division as it relates to class, race, and politics has become so toxic it is tearing apart our collective social identity.
Even globally, the rise of protectionist ideals in many countries is signaling a retreat from the international collaboration and friendship that we’ve enjoyed for decades. The message is to turn away from the foreign and seek safety in the known, our like kind.
Global Distrust is Turning into Local Isolation
Unfortunately what’s happening on a broader scale is trickling down to our individual lives and impacting how we relate to one another. The relations among friends, family, and neighbors are getting strained. There is a growing sense of distrust and alienations which is leading to intentional or unintentional but gradual disassociation.
Before our very eyes, times are changing. There was once a time not too long ago when we were more united in community and we knew our neighbors, colleagues, and fellow congregants. We looked after each others’ kids and knew the stories of our families, our past, and hopeful aspirations. But unfortunately, in today’s world, we never learn these backstories nor what makes up the tapestry of each others’ lives.
Like mindlessly obedient servants, we instead are slaves to our harried schedules and demanding commitments. We must go and keep going just to keep up. We don’t have the luxury of time or space to look around and get to know the strangers in our lives. To make matters worse, we continuously receive broadcast messages from media that slyly reinforce division and distrust as harmony and collaboration don’t sell content.
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The Mirage of Community in Social Media
When we turn to the “friends” we know, we’re often left disappointed. The ubiquity of social media has changed our expectations about friendships. We now reason that if we’re friends online, maybe we have enough relationship to count. While the data showing our friend and follower count tells our mind one thing, it doesn’t necessarily compute with our heart.
Relationships that remain on the surface are becoming the new standard even if it is perceptively less satisfying. These changing societal norms are slowly eroding the pleasures of our interactions resulting in deeper isolation.
This creates an insidious downward spiral. If I don’t interact with you, then I really don’t know you. If I don’t really know you, I have no emotional connection to you. You then become a some nameless faceless “other” that is not like me. I can compartmentalize you as a statistic and readily accept the generalizations I hear about you. As the details of your existence become more and more opaque, it becomes natural for me to not trust you and therefore come to believe you deserve no consideration on my part.
Social Isolation Leads to Callousness
Void of things like blanket empathy, this disconnection with others has created a callousness within us. And when combined with the frustrations of personal circumstances of our lives (oftentimes stemming from this increasing isolation), it results in a combustible reaction. We see it play out in the many instances of bullying, internet trolls, road rage, school shootings, and workplace rampages.
Thankfully most of us will never act out our aggression to such an extent, but it certainly signals a pressing need to change how we engage with one another. From the stranger on the street to our closest friends, we all need to recommit to the fundamental social obligations that govern our participation in an inclusive society. It’s time to shift our thinking and our action from impersonal and isolated to collaborative and community-oriented.
To begin let’s start small by recommitting to displaying common courtesy, consideration, and manners in all interactions. We must be guided by the simple principles of kindness and personal ethics and honor the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Consider these seven simple ways to bring back humanity and humility to our interactions.
1 - Have Manners
Manners, remember them? They are simple really. “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “I’m sorry”. They are the unwritten rules and expectations of living in a civilized society. But it should be more than what you mindlessly reply when someone holds the door for you or hands you the coffee.
Manners is an acknowledgment of your impact on someone else. The best illustration of manners is by showing genuine appreciation. When the sales clerk goes out of her way to help you, express with sincerity how grateful you are. When you're on the receiving end of unusual hospitality or service, acknowledge it. It will mean so much because it is so rarely expressed.
A small but significant measure is to bring back the Thank You note. The ones that are made of paper and delivered in the mail by the postman. I still send them out when I have been on the receiving end of generosity. The recipients of the notes appreciate the gesture because it took time and effort and I actually acknowledged my sincere gratitude.
2 - Do What You Say You’re Going to Do
Talk is cheap, right? It’s easy to commit to a project or promise to attend an event in the moment. But then the inspiration fades and you decide to blow it off. You figure life goes on and no one will remember or care. But people do care because you’ve already made commitments and others are counting on you.
It’s too easy to just let your promises fade away assuming no one will remember but it’s rude and it damages your reputation. Be mindful and intentional in your commitments and honor them. Or be courageous and courteous enough to acknowledge your need to reconsider or back out. While it may make you feel sheepish, it will be better received and appreciated in the long run. Let your no’s be no’s and your yeses be yeses.
3 - If You Have Nothing Good to Say, Stay Silent
I know this is a tough one in today’s world. Everyone feels entitled to express an opinion no matter how disparaging it is. If you can’t be kind, thoughtful, or courteous refrain from weighing in. It’s that simple and it’s the easier course of action.
Even if you wish to offer some constructive criticism, think twice. Your intention and the other person’s interpretation of your words may be miles apart and once it’s out there, the potential chasm is created. You can’t take it back. Also, before piping up with your opinion ask yourself if what you want to say needs to be said. Does it add value or is it more about you and your agenda?
4 - Be Optimistic and Good-Natured
Nobody likes to be around a Debbie Downer. The world is full enough of negativity and pessimism. Make an honest effort to look at the glass half-full and expect positive outcomes. Not only will it improve your relationships, but it will also improve your health.
Smile more and seek out opportunities to laugh as often as you can. Science has proven moods are contagious and we know this intuitively. That’s why it’s hard to be in a bad mood at an awesome music concert. What you put out in the world in terms of disposition, good vibes, and positivity will come back to you. What you sow, so shall you reap.
Likewise, don’t complain. Have gratitude for even the little things in your life. Remember, everything is relative. As bad as you may think something is in your life, realize that someone always has it worse. Choose to have gratitude and to be joyous in all aspects of your life. You have a lot to celebrate.
5 - Keep Confidentiality
In our personal relationships, we share a lot. Besides the comfort it provides, it reinforces our relationships by establishing trust. When you’re on the receiving end of personal and sensitive disclosure, honor this confidence completely. Be trustworthy and keep your mouth shut.
The only exception, of course, is if there is a chance of harm to anyone involved. In our oversharing society, preserved confidentiality is a rare and appreciated courtesy which many people crave but feel unsure where to find. Establish yourself as one who is steadfast in your discretion and strict confidentiality.
And on a side note, if anyone ever says to you, “You know so and so told me not to mention this, but...” Never, ever, confide in that person. You aren’t so special that this person will find moral conviction in preserving your secrets.
6 - Show Empathy
None of us is exempt from misfortune, heartache, or struggle in this life. Not one of us. So when your times are good, remember that someone else is working through the opposite scenario. Walk a mile in their shoes and have compassion.
Extend a listening ear, offer a shoulder to cry on, or simply show a kind smile. We all need help, especially in our darkest hours. Ask someone directly, “How can I help you?” And then follow through. The investment in this kindness will make your heart feel good and it will build a bond of trust and goodwill to those you help. Plus, in a cosmic sort of way, it builds you good karma.
7 - Give Time to Listen with Curiosity and Compassion
This may be the most important suggestion of them all. We all rush around and rarely give time to stopping and truly giving deliberate and undivided attention to others. And this is having a serious impact on our sense of connection and wellbeing. In numerous studies, results show at least a quarter of us claim to be lonely and these are just the ones that acknowledge it.
This is a problem that affects everyone regardless of gender, age, class, and culture. The sad part is that without changing how we interact with one another, the issue will continue to grow. A simple and profound antidote is to just take the time to attentively listen. Go beyond the “Hi, how are you?”. Instead ask, “How are you...really?”
By tapping into curiosity that we all possess, but some may have abandoned, we learn rich stories about each other. From the people in our lives who we’ve known for years to the ones we’ve just met. Contained within every single one of us are entertaining stories, pivotal lessons learned, and sage wisdom that lay dormant until someone (anyone!) takes the time to ask.
The world today doesn’t honor community like it once did. Nefarious forces are at play to divide rather than unite. While we can’t control what goes on out there, we can take responsibility to bring back civility, kindness, and ethics where we reside. We can use them as the building blocks to reconstruct real community in our everyday lives. If we honor the premise of Think Globally But Act Locally, our collective efforts can begin to repair these frayed ties that should bind us all.
Pick two or more of these suggestions and practice them for a week. Observe how it makes you feel and the reaction you get from the people with whom you interact. Document this in a journal and reread it periodically. It will reinforce the behavior.
How do you practice kindness and consideration in your lives apart from these suggestions? What results do you get? Inspire us, tell us your stories in the comments below.