Dying for Connection

By Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS

You know, I’ve never been one of those people who reacted very much to safety tips. I realize that is not a flattering realization about me but it’s been pretty constant throughout my life. It could be a backlash from the fact that my mother was constantly reading and would often warn me about the potential dangers of so many common things. Seriously, my mom often sounded like the voice-over on those pharmaceutical commercials. You know the overly pleasant voice that calmly describes the potential side effects of taking ANYTHING. Seriously, the actors are playing happily together, holding hands, tossing a football while the soothing voice is telling you that this same drug may cause seizures, paralysis, sexual dysfunction, hives, a constriction of the throat, chronic diarrhea, leprosy, and the equivalent of a lobotomy……okay, so maybe I’m carried away here but not by much. Anyway, my mother would often sound like that to me.
“Aaron, don’t crack your knuckles or they will be huge by the time you’re 25.”
“Aaron, don’t watch TV with the lights out or you’ll essentially go blind.”
“Aaron, I read that most of the things you’re doing can probably cause something really bad to happen.”

She meant well. I know she did. And, truly, many of the things she read may actually be true. It’s just that I didn’t want to hear it. So, I’ve probably undercompensated on some of the safety issues brought to my attention in life. However, there are some statistics that really caught my attention and scared me:

• Talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver’s reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old.
• 34% of 16 and 17 year-olds confess that they text while driving.
• Each year, 21% of fatal car crashes involving teens between the ages of 16-19 were the result of cell phone usage. That number is expected to grow at a rate of 4% per year.
• Almost 50% of all drivers between the ages of 18-24 are texting while driving.
• One-fifth of experienced adult drivers send text messages while driving.
• Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident than driving while INTOXTICATED.
• Drivers talking on cell phones are 18% slower to react to brake lights.
• Texting while driving causes a 400% increase in time spent with EYES OFF THE ROAD.
• When you text and drive, it takes your eyes off the road an average of 5 seconds at a time. One writer said that this is like driving 55mph, BLIND, the length of a football field. It’s like driving after having 4 beers, easily putting one over the legal limit.
Okay, these stats scare me. I admit it. I guess it’s because I have texted while driving and have noticed that, at times, I have reacted to the car in front of me more slowly than normal. It scares me because, just the other day, I saw a guy on his cell phone talking, and it took him 5 times (no lie) to back into an empty parking space. Often, I’m at a red light and have to wait 5-7 seconds for the car in front of me to go after it turns green. Sure enough, I see them talking on their cell phone.
People, I’m becoming a believer. This is serious! It’s not just about teenagers. Sure, they may do it more than adults but part of that is because they KNOW HOW to do it more than many of us. It’s an issue that is becoming universal.
And I believe it is a reflection of a much bigger problem in our society: DISCONNECTION.
There is a phrase in Psychology called “The Paradox of Progress” that basically states that the more advanced we become as a society the more difficult society becomes, and the LESS CONNECTED. It is a real problem that I find terribly disturbing. Most of us, nowadays, don’t really know our neighbors, our co-workers, and have very few in our circle of close friends. Connection, I mean REAL connection, is becoming more and more endangered in our society. Yes, we know people. Yes, we might speak to people. But many of us are getting less and less connected to people, and this is dangerous to our emotional and spiritual health.
The results of this disconnection are many:
• America is becoming more and more lonely
• Anxiety disorders are on the rise, as is depression
• Social networks are exploding as people grasp for any kind of connectedness….like starving people at a buffet.
• Kids are becoming addicted to online gaming as a way to connect in some way to others.
• A rise in “shootings” and other violence as people become less connected to potential victims.
• An increase in internet affairs as disconnected spouses find emotional, and then sexual, connection with other disconnected people online.
• A dramatic increase in text-messaging, even while driving.
What can I say? I’m sure, if I thought about it, I could list more and more results of the disconnection of America. It is a troubling truth that we find ourselves up against. The worst part of it all is the pressure we feel to keep going down this road and at this pace. To slow down and get connected feels like a waste of our time, like we aren’t being productive enough. So, most of us get caught up in this cycle of disconnected busyness and don’t know how to get off the train.
Let me say this, there is no easy way off this ride. This trend did not happen overnight and it is the reality we face in American society right now, a society I might add that seems to be going in a very negative direction. Again, there is no easy fix but let me suggest some ways to combat this paradox we face:
• Be intentional about building strong family relationships: It has to start somewhere and the home is the best place. If you are too busy achieving or keeping up with household tasks instead of building strong connection within your home, you need to re-evaluate that. This goes for teens as well as adults. Start building stronger relationships to your spouses, your siblings, your parents, your children, etc. This takes a determination to slow down long enough to do it. It means putting down the laundry sometimes. It means leaving the Xbox for an hour or two. It means coming home from work early when you’re able. It means eating together instead of in front of the TV. It means we must MAKE the time for each other.
• Look for connecting points based on common interests: If you are someone that hates books then I wouldn’t join a reading club. If you hate animals then don’t buy a dog and start visiting the local dog park. The key to connecting is going where you can find like-minded individuals. I am thankful that I have begun to find some community by being involved in my local Little League baseball program. I am a tee ball coach and an umpire and I’ve begun to meet people that I really like, and who like the same things as I do: baseball and family. Seriously, I enjoy the fact that our Saturdays are now filled with being at the baseball fields. Our whole family joins in. My stepson, Eddie, is one of my assistant coaches (and does a great job with the kids), my son Joshua plays, and my wife dresses herself and my little girl up in “Reds” attire so they can cheer us on. It’s awesome! And we’re not the only ones. The fields are packed with local families watching and cheering on their children as baseball is played. It started as just a way to provide baseball for local kids but it has evolved into a connecting point for local families, enough that we now have an adult men’s softball league and are starting a co-ed league as well. Just a few weeks ago, another tee ball dad joined me in going to the movies. It was great! But what I love is that the activity goes beyond the sport. It has the feel of a community coming together. Wow, is that refreshing! That’s my advice to you, find a CONNECTING POINT. It may feel awkward and sluggish at first but give it a chance and you may see it grow into relationships.
• Talk to people when you’re in public: I know this sounds crazy in our day and age and I’m not suggesting you come across like some sort of strange maniac while accosting total strangers for no reason. What I’m saying is, instead of being in a constant state of hurry, be ready to speak if the opportunity presents itself. Open the door for someone and say hello. Smile when you make eye contact with another. Speak to someone if there is an open door. I know this may be uncomfortable at first but we must reverse the trend to isolate from everyone. My wife used to kid me because, when we would go yard-saling (my wife’s favorite pastime), I would often start a conversation with the people at the homes. She used to lecture me on how proper yard sale etiquette is to get “in and out” so you can go to the next sale. But I can’t help it….I want to connect. Don’t you?
• Slow yourself down: There is no easy way to do this but we have to start being better-balanced in our lives. Ambition and busyness can only take us so far. Eventually, we need people. We need friendships. Men need a “band of brothers” and women need a “circle of girlfriends.” This can never happen if we are constantly feeling the pull of the “urgent.” We really need to re-evaluate the pace we lead and ask ourselves if it allows us the time to connect with people.
My friend, our culture is headed down a road of loneliness and isolation. In general, people are caring less and less about those around them. We are becoming more and more self-centered and withdrawn. Our relationships are becoming increasingly cyber-oriented and not real. It’s no wonder suicides and divorce rates are up. It’s no wonder that people are texting more while they’re driving in spite of the apparent dangers of such an act. It’s no wonder because…we’re dying for connection.
Let’s change that.

Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or www.legacycounselingservices.org

Popular posts from this blog

Understanding Schizotypal Personality Disorder

The Ultimate Networkers Checklist