That Moment When I Realize the Problem is Me

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Photo by Jangra Works, via Flickr

This might come as a shock to many people. (Brace yourselves, sisters!) Occasionally…very occasionally…I do fleetingly think, “Gee, if I had a smart phone right now I could…”

I always decide that for me, the benefit would be far outweighed by the nuisance, the expectation of being always available. But I’ve realized in the past few days that my reasoning is faulty. I’m absolutely right to stay disconnected, but the real issue in having a smart phone wouldn’t be the technology. It would be me.

It seemed like for a week, I kept hearing stories about people who had found their family relationships strained—in some cases broken—by addiction to screen time. Then I read a striking reflection, provocatively titled “I used to be human,” by Andrew Sullivan, who embraced life online until he realized his physical health was failing and so was his ability to have meaningful relationships. Yesterday, I heard him on NPR’s program Here and Now (a great interview, btw).

And when Christian and I talked these things over, we found ourselves stumped by the lack of self-regulation that seems ubiquitous to modern life. I scolded him for how often he feels compelled to check his work email day, night, morning, weekends. And he pointed out how much time I spend on the computer.

That was when I realized that I am not immune. I, too, am driven by a need for distraction. If I get stuck while I’m working, I’ll click over to email, and when there’s nothing there, I’ll hop on Facebook or (less frequently) Twitter. (There’s always something to distract me there.)

I value going out to the Pinnacles or Gans Creek to write because it takes me completely off the grid. It’s just me and my muse and the Spirit. I go out there, first, to be still and meditate, but despite devoting half my nature time to stillness and not doing, I generally get more writing done than I would if I stayed home.

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I haven’t been going out much lately. We invested in a set of patio furniture that has made my back yard like a retreat—at least, when the wind is out of the north, as it has been the past week or so, and I can’t hear the interstate roaring. But there’s wireless down there, and any time I ran into a speed bump in my manuscript, my brain went, “SQUIRREL!” and I ran off to check Facebook.

Late last week, I decided to safeguard my writing time by unplugging the wireless router before I went downstairs to write. See, theoretically you could just turn off the wireless on the computer (or turn off the phone). But I’ve tried that. When all it takes is a flip of the switch to reconnect, there’s not a whole lot standing between me and distraction. It’s been illuminating to see how often I’ve said to myself, “Oh, I’ll just go look up…oh, wait.”

I’ve accomplished a ton in the past week.

Then, early this week, I imposed a Facebook cap on myself. I’m now only allowed to get on Facebook three times a day. (Only! There’s your first clue, Sherlock.)

The sense of withdrawal engendered by all this clarified for me that the only way I can do everything I do is by staying disconnected, by opting into the digital realm on my terms instead of being in by default and having to consciously opt out. I might be able to control myself, because self-discipline and self-regulation are key to my world view. But I would spend so much mental bandwidth policing myself, I would be taking away from the energy required to do the things that are more important to me.

So for me, not having a smart phone, not texting, not doing All The Things Everybody Else Does, are what allow me to be the woman I want to be. But I’m glad that now I recognize the problem isn’t the technology—it’s me.

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Mercy In The Age of Facebook

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Because the spiritual works of mercy have always been a little tough to pin down, I offer this today:

The Spiritual Works of Mercy – in the Age of Facebook

Mark Piper

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Image by mkhmarketing, via Flickr

🔶 To Give Counsel to the Doubtful, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation

🔶 To Instruct the uneducated, including oneself, and to recognize ones lack of knowledge and to refrain from instruction when necessary.

🔶 To Advise Wrongdoers, in person, without a shield of anonymity, with charity and goodwill as your motivation, and to use prudential judgement to know when not to offer advice.

🔶 To Comfort the Afflicted, in person, in prayer, in silence

🔶 To Forgive Offenders, your offenders, when the time is appropriate and to do so with intimacy not anonymity

🔶 To bear patiently the troublesome, employing silence often, and avoiding trite exchanges online.

🔶 To Pray for the living and the dead recognizing that clicking like on a prayer does nothing for your soul or the well being of the deceased. Take time to unplug and simply be.

Most importantly, avoid hate. One cannot always avoid anger, but anger can be constructive, hate however, blocks fraternity, charity, and love.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters named anger & courage; anger at the way things are, courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” – St. Augustine

Author: Mark Piper, Director of Lay Association, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, West Midwest Community

For more “Mercy on a Monday” posts, click here.

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The Line Between “This Is Real Life” and “I’m A Whining, Complaining, Insensitive Jerk”

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It was just a joke. Christian and I were sitting at a restaurant Saturday night–around 8p.m., very, very late for us to be out at dinner–and the check was a long time in coming. Across the room sat a family with an eighteen-month-old baby. I thought, “Who brings a baby out to dinner at eight p.m.?” In another part of the room, a seven- or eight-year-old girl dropped a glass, which shattered spectacularly. The look on the dad’s face made me nod. Been there. Done that.

I looked over at Christian and said wickedly, “We should bring our whole family here for dinner at 8p.m.”

Christian grinned. “Right before bedtime.”

“Yup.”

“We should do it on Valentine’s Day!”

We both laughed, and Christian made an offhand comment about Facebook. Feeling tremendously witty, I went home and shared the little joke.

About an hour later I got to thinking: That wasn’t funny. That was tasteless. What sort of message am I sending? That my children are a bother, such a strain on my resources, that I crack jokes about inflicting them on other people, to help me cope?

I honestly thought it was just us.

Image by Crappy Pictures, LLC (crappypictures.com)

Social media allows you to feel a sense of kinship with a million people when you honestly thought, from your husband’s reaction, that you were the only person in human history who was ever lousy and lazy enough to let your toddlers run around without pants on.

It allows you to cheer each other on and laugh until you cry at someone else’s struggles with parenting. It doesn’t substitute for sharing those stories in real, face to face communities, but it runs a close second.

But then I think of the people out there who are desperate to be parents. I think how much these stories, which are often told with an equal dose of humor and exasperation, can be like a knife in the gut. I used to feel physically ill when people talked about their children as if they were a bother. Facebook, at that time of my life, would have been a near occasion to sin. All those stories we like to tell about family life? They’re funny, but they also sound dangerously close to complaints.

It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in my own life, the sweet-and-salty mix of sharing family stories, that I come across as a jerk, complaining about the best thing that has ever happened to me. I remember a couple years ago, someone posted a status update that suggested kids must be a real pain in the ***, judging by how parents talk about them. I wrote an impassioned response (and so did a lot of other people). Only much later did I learn something that made me think that status update was born of pain of loss rather than an anti-child attitude.

And lest we pretend this problem exists only on Facebook, let’s be honest: we do this in real life, too. This is how parents talk about their families: with love and pride, sometimes, yes–but more often with humor and exasperation. How do we balance the need to laugh about real life with the potential to be a real jerk to those who would give anything–anything–to be plagued with exactly what we’re complaining about?