Written by Jen Mounday, Dean of Students and Mom of 2
This is a two part series about the importance of tech-free conversation for the building up of relationships and ultimately empathy.
A family of 5 drive down the highway with everyone on their own device.
One thing that has not changed with the advancement of technology is the steadfast reality that children learn what is modeled for them. They absorb, like sponges, cues from their environment as well as the culture they’re in. It remains the job of parents to filter cultural messages their children understand from truth to fallacy. One of the primary cultural messages is that boredom is something to be avoided. Take a look around most organized events and you’ll see that we try to sterilize the “lag time” out of any structured activity. We keep the music bumping, the entertainment coming, and the transitions tight so that nothing “awkward” happens. In our culture, awkward is another word for silence. And if, by accident, silence does happen, we have our phones.
Just look at a group of teenagers sharing a meal together. One will steal the stage for a few moments with a funny story or dramatic detail and then when the words die down, the phones come out. Sometimes the phones stay out while people take turns talking and what you witness is a kind of toggling that only GenZ can really grasp. It’s a perfectly orchestrated dance of looking up at the speaker to show you’re listening while looking down at your phone every 30 seconds or so to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Looking up. Looking down. Pointing out to the group what’s on your phone. Listening to what’s on their phones. Laughing. Texting another friend who isn’t with you who is at their house texting you in front of their friends. It sounds like madness when you put it this way, but it’s the norm.
One could argue that, to GenZ, boredom is not an option. But social scientists can see that boredom is just the medicine we need. Boredom is the driver and often it drives us to conversation. And, like a domino effect that only God could design, conversation is the birthplace of empathy. Through conversation we learn how to listen and understand and share the feelings of another. Each time we use conversation as a tool to meet new people or understand the people we love, we see the image of God in each other. We see a child of God, uniquely created and worthy of love and belonging. This is how we close the empathy gap. Our kids need to be taught how to do this, and it starts with us.
Would issues such as bigotry and bullying remain a massive, national pandemic if the coming generation learned how to see each other as created by God? If our young people laid aside their emotional armor and heard each other’s stories? If, instead of sending an angry text, they spoke the angry words and were able to see the result of those words in the expression on the other person’s face? Would violence prevail if we stopped hiding behind our texts, posts, blogs and assumptions? What if we stopped tweeting and started meeting? It might get a little messy, unexpected things might happen, but the Bible promises us that when two or more gathered in His name, He is in the midst. Without text, words won’t be perfectly crafted, but through conversation we begin to see each other as we truly are, through the lens of “imago dei,” (the image of God). Through this lens we can begin to practice true empathy, what the scriptures describe in Ephesians 4:2 as “bearing with one another in love.”