Humanity

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life in which they were exploring the old adage, “you will understand when you are older.” In the final act, they are talking to a man in the early stages of dementia. He describes what it is like to go to his doctor and be asked questions like “Who is the president?” and “What day is it?” and worst of all, they ask him to draw a analog clock depicting a particular time.

The man, a former engineer professor, is bothered that he struggles so much with this task. His life before was centered around numbers. He sits down one day and deconstructs the issue. He figures out and later articulates to his wife, the difficulty is that they are three layers. The hours, 1-12 (even though there are 24 hours in a day), the minutes (which correlate with the numbers 1-12 but represent 5’s) and on top of that, the larger hand tells the minutes while the smaller hand tells the hour. No wonder I am 30 and still have trouble reading an analog clock!

Anyway, this was an amazing story but that was not what fascinated me the most. What caught my attention was that his wife of decades kept feeding him words and prodding him along. It reminded me of many therapy sessions with parents and children. This constant need for your loved one to achieve in a way that society can recognize. It broke my heart. Here are people, young or old, trying to find their way in their own words, as fragile and disjointed as it may be, and we as a society have lost our ability to simply wait.

The evidence of this impatience and obsession with boiling every part of a human into a number is all around us. The survey of your doctor, what stories post in your Facebook feed, or what makes me most sad, the number of smiley or sad faces an elementary child comes home from school with.

I wish I could remember who said this, but I heard someone say that the true tragedy of our society isn’t what law has been or will be passed or the absolute joke of candidates in this presidential election, but instead the loss of humanity. The loss and oversimplification of the infinitely complex experience of being a human being. Our children are not numbers and our loved ones are not defined by the words they struggle to find. And each one of us deserves patience and quiet loving support to find who we are today even if it appears to be drastically different from yesterday.

So next time you feel like filling in a word or take a test score to mean something about you or a loved one’s intelligence, ask yourself, “does this really mean something or do I just feel a general pressure from society?” Or if you are really up for a challenge, “what is it about this score, lack of ability, or mistake that makes me feel uncomfortable enough to correct this person?”

The Missed Point About Teens and Social Media

It is always encouraging to me when articles like this one hit the web. It is a sign that the the effects of social media are a continued discourse in our society. But these articles frequently miss one important point. The point is that more and more children and teens are spending time alone on social media with no parental involvement. It is not just what social media is displaying, it is that our children are receiving these messages alone and internalizing them. Children are no longer confronted by images on the TV that then can be discussed as a family or even a group of peers. Instead, the information they are digesting is frequently experienced alone.

If your teenage daughter is appearing to lack confidence or becoming more anxious or nervous, try to open up a conversation about the fact that social media is still media. Everyone is projecting what they want you to believe, not how things actually are. There are also a number of great videos on YouTube showing how much models are airbrushed. And keep in mind, problems can seem so much bigger when we are experiencing them alone. By opening up a conversation, you are not only bringing your teen back in touch with reality, but reminding them that they can talk about these experiences, that everyone is impacted by social media.