Have we become indifferent? And if so, what is the cost of so many of us no longer being interested in each others lives?
I vividly remember travelling on the trains and underground during my work commutes in the late 90’s. Each day I’d rub shoulders with hundreds of strangers who I’d never before met and likely never see again. The space was cramped, the air sparse, and nobody dared start a conversation for fear of being perceived as strange.
On reflection I’ve concluded that those ways of relating during early morning commutes were in fact a reflection of the world as it was; a place of independence, isolation and anonymity. Fast-forward now into the new millennium and not much has changed. As were the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, we’ve become so absorbed with ourselves, what needs to get done, and limited by our prejudice, that we barely notice the needs of those around us.
In fact, through my counselling and coaching work I’ve observed the sad reality that these ways of relating to one another have become increasingly more evident in contexts other than the daily commute. They’re seen within families, communities, work settings and even the church. But where once our heads were buried in a tabloid or broadsheet to avoid eye-contact, they’re now fixated on screens where we have the world at our fingertips.
Where several of my clients speak of feeling lonely, isolated, vulnerable, and in some cases, suicidal, I wonder how many of their stories of disconnect are a bitter indictment of the society we’ve created. A society that tolerates the idea of everyone looking after themselves. A culture where a transactional approach to relationships — interactions where the goal is to gain maximum value for self — seems acceptable, and is in many cases, rewarded.
Arguably, this combination of isolation and self preservation is destroying families and communities alike, whilst at the same time leaving many individuals feeling they have neither no one to turn to, or the capacity to continue navigating through the challenges of life. Devastatingly, the reality of their pain has seen an increase in poor mental health and many turning to drastic measures like death by suicide, with studies showing men as being most at risk.
Yet, despite these realities we somehow continue to miss the significance of connecting and turn a blind eye to the responsibility we have to one another. Should it not concern us that its become the norm to be in a crowded and dense space, yet not interact with one another? What does our reluctance to disengage from the notifications and updates in the palm of our hands, and instead be enthralled by those in our immediate proximity, tell us about ourselves?
These are questions I ask of myself and sometimes others. Some I ask share similar concerns, whilst others seem aloof to the idea of our disconnect being somehow linked to an increase in poor mental health and societal dysfunction.
My own conclusion is that we’ve become relationally indifferent. We’ve moved away from being interested in one another or feeling empathy for each others plights. In an age of me and I, many have lost the concept of the need to show consideration and love for the other, instead opting to neglect those seen during the daily commute, at the dinner table, in the community, and at work.
If this continues, it’ll sadly be to the detriment of building and sustaining authentic relationships.