My new car recently got smacked on the right-hand passenger side. Totaled? That did not matter. A car is a contraption. I walked away.
I passed the next few hours taking care of business: insurance, a tow truck haul, and my rental car. Then I headed to work to fulfill a deadline.
STOP—that’s a darn great verb
I went through the motions without razor-sharp clarity. Yet my system remained in overdrive.
A colleague told me, “Stop. Go to a clinic and get checked out.”
The doctor screened my body for soreness and my brain for a concussion. On detecting my Deep South accent, he regaled me with a couple of anecdotes about the delightful time he experienced while training in Charleston, South Carolina, the great lady by the sea.
However, he warned me that a few days of rest were essential because my brain had experienced a jolt. He prescribed the following actions:
- Minimize activity on gadgets
- Do not read much, especially work-related documents or unpleasant topics
- Listen to music
- Watch a comedy
- Engage in real conversations—listen to human voices—rather than staring at a constant text storm
So this Type A woman slowed down to taste life’s simplest wonders: spoonfuls of pure vanilla ice cream and headphones brimming with the pleasant rhythm of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A summer pleasure in deep midwinter.
What’s up with this headful of miracles?
After resting three days, I awoke early one morning, contemplating the brain—among the most complex organs in our body, “with 100 billion nerves that communicate in trillions of connections called synapses,” according to WebMD.
What did I understand about the brain? So I took a small voyage of discovery via a quiz posted last year on WebMD: “How well do you know your brain?”
My score? “Not bad.” However, the grade would have vexed my professors of “baby bio” courses. Clearly, I had a bit to relearn.
Although an on/off practitioner of yoga since college, I finally sought consistency. Six months ago, I rooted in a daily practice (a.m. and p.m.) followed by a few minutes of meditation. But on the day of my wreck, I sped out the door, diverted by having slept through my alarm.
Again, I return to the cautionary STOP. Would grounding my being for a few extra minutes have prevented the accident?
The doctor’s instructions raised two questions:
- Do we follow this advice for only a short time after a potentially threatening event?
- Or do we consider such wisdom as a daily application?
Too often the stuff of myth: life-work balance
For two weeks, I slowed down my internet activity, taking a Twitter vacation and almost disappearing from Facebook and its political fallout—but dropped in on LinkedIn where I regularly engage colleagues and school friends from days of yore. However, detaching periodically from the life-work email streams proved challenging.
In 2011, I read the article “Who’s the Boss, You or Your Gadget?” in the New York Times. It addresses the constant contact with work via smart phones, text messaging, and social media: “There’s a palpable sense ‘that home has invaded work and work has invaded home, and the boundary is likely never to be restored,’ says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.”
For many, “life-work balance” is an empty phrase. Psychologists have long dismissed the notion of multitasking.
A general invasion amped up since that article went to press. Now we binge-watch hot series via gadget streaming, and presidential policies blast us in tweets.
Did empathy go down a rabbit hole?
The debate about gadgets and their effect on empathy continues. In 2014 an article in Wired gave me pause—just as I was digging deep into a social media marketing course: “How Gadgets Ruin Relationships and Corrupt Emotions.” It commented on “cell-fishness”: “But this is about more than an issue of gadget etiquette or a lack of consideration for others. It’s about connection. While our electronic gadgetry is keeping us more connected in some ways, it is a shallow connection—not the deep emotional engagement needed for any kind of meaningful relationship.”
Last summer, an article appeared in TechCrunch: “The New Age of Empathy.” It has a decidedly different take on empathy: “The best books, the books that stay with us, are tinged with both comedy and sorrow, humor and anger. We remember things that make us feel. The internet, in its petulant and infantile glory, is slowly moving toward that ideal.” The article also underlines several studies that the internet can stimulate brain activity and that time spent online has little impact on empathy.
However, the piece ends with a question mark: “In the end, this new era of empathy might be a mirage, a calm before the dystopian storm. Or it could be a signpost aiming us forward, unto higher heights and better worlds. The answer is within us and how we choose to react in this moment. We are the ones who take the darkened hill and shout ‘Excelsior’ [‘always upward’ in Latin]. The internet is the lantern in our hands.”
I hardly see the internet as a great light. True, it represents a huge technological shift, as did the dawn of the machine age and the invention of the Gutenberg press. We each have a light within and a choice to let it shine. How we communicate—whether through tweets, letters, emails, gestures, facial expressions, art, music, or poetry—becomes the lantern. One of the most powerful sources of that light may be empathy, the ability to connect with another human being and care.