In this digital age, a life of rich, nourishing relationships isn’t only about what you say ‘yes’ to. It’s increasingly about what you say ‘no’ to.
You’re stopped at a light and through the rearview mirror you get a glance at the perfect little girl sitting contentedly in the back seat. Suddenly you’re overwhelmed with emotions. Why? How can a glance be so powerful?
Because it’s not just a glance, just a moment, or even just her. It’s that day way back, when you decided you wanted to be more than just you. And the day you first glanced at the woman who would become her mom, and the day you realized you couldn’t be more than you without her. It’s the joy that overcame you the day she said yes. It’s the shortness of breath you experienced when you found out she was expecting. It’s the day this little girl was born, the first time you looked in her eyes, the first time she laughed, then walked, then talked, then told you she loved you. And it’s everything in between. That glance at her in the car is all that, a symphony of feeling that is now inseparable from her beautiful face.
Suddenly there’s a ding on the phone—a text from a colleague at work asking for a clarification. You pull over and answer it quickly. Then you notice a social media alert. You click on it. It’s someone you met—not sure where or when. They’re in Cuba on a second honeymoon. You feel annoyed. As you pull back onto the road, you realize you’ve traveled very quickly from a place of deep connection and caring to a place of indifference, and that meaningful moment with your daughter is gone.
A life of rich, nourishing relationships isn’t only about what you say ‘yes’ to. It’s increasingly about what you say ‘no’ to. Social media tools, like other demands, can easily consume all your ‘yesses’ with their pings and prompts and tweets, even as the important relationship is sitting right next to you asking nothing. Will you say yes to her instead? Or will the couple in Cuba claim that moment?
Research shows that over time, the distraction of social media actually degrades our social skills, interferes with face-to-face time, and debilitates our sense of well-being with a constant temptation to compare ourselves with others. More and more these constitute the moments that don’t matter—the demands on our time and attention that come to rule our lives and redefine our relationships.
Caring is what makes moments that matter, matter. It defines true sociality. When you feel deeply about another person, you develop a connection to them, even a oneness with them, and you get a confirming sense that you’re making progress in becoming more than just you. In this digital age, it’s easier than ever to unintentionally get derailed from that progress. And likewise, it may be harder than ever to recognize the opportunity or need for caring when it is right before you.
For example, a man may acknowledge his wife and children as the relationships that are most important to him. They are also a source of constant support and approval. They believe in him at times when his belief in himself is low. These are the relationships that will be around forever. Unfortunately, precisely because of that, he forgets to notice them, like the clean air he breathes, or the warm water in his shower.
We all do this. It’s perfectly natural, and yet completely irrational. And there are good reasons to try to turn this around, which begins with putting first the relationships that matter most, and then feeding them continually. Here are a few ideas that have been helpful to me:
- Identify those people who you really cannot live without. Write down their names. While it’s tempting to think, “I know who they are,” it makes a difference to post a list in a place you will often see.
- Carefully observe those people in real life, especially their faces. Like the gauges on your car’s dashboard, a face gives you the information you need in order to know how that relationship is faring. Then, keep these relationships present before you with pictures—posting them as wallpaper on your device, as favorites in your camera roll, and more. These images will not only remind you of who matters most, but how you feel about them, and what you can do to take care of them.
- Notice what distracts you from nourishing these relationships. Do you find that it’s hard to give the people you care about your attention, especially when they ask for it? Are you easily pulled into other activities when you’re with them? Notice what those distractions are.
- Figure out how to mitigate those distractions. In the example given above of riding together in the car, should your phone always be accessible? Could it be in the glove box or brief case? Or can it be on airplane mode? Once you’ve noticed what the distractions are, consider making a plan to address them the next time they come up.
It may take effort and discipline to do these things at first. But as you try, you’ll soon notice a change in yourself. Like when you test drive a certain kind of car, and suddenly everyone on the road seems to have that same car. It isn’t that all those other drivers suddenly bought that same car. It’s just that you’re becoming aware of them.
The same thing happens with your relationships. As you do the work to become more aware of them, you’ll soon find yourself strengthening them. Even better, you’ll see results. You’ll observe those faces becoming warmer, more friendly, more “one” with you. You’ll find yourself enjoying more moments that matter, and less distracted by moments that don’t.
Over time, the debilitating effects of counterfeit social behavior will become barely visible in your rearview mirror. And as you catch a glance at your face in that mirror, you’ll notice a grin of joy and fulfillment that comes from true sociality, true engagement in the lives of the people you care for the most. And beyond your own face, you’ll see that beautiful face who calls you dad, and feel that symphony of feeling that explodes when you’re fully present with the people you love. And you’ll realize, maybe for the first time, that you truly have become much more than you.
Caring is what makes moments that matter, matter. It defines true sociality. When you feel deeply about another person, you develop a connection to them, even a oneness with them, and you get a confirming sense that you’re making progress in becoming more than just you.