You Can’t Love When You’re Staring at Your Lap

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: How to Annihilate Your Out-Group (The Way Jesus Did)

Several weeks ago, I was riding the commuter train into Chicago. I was raised amidst farmland, and trips into the city still give me butterflies. So, as the train approached the Loop, I put away my phone and prepared myself to disembark.

faded billboard

Photo Credit: boxchain (Creative Commons)

I gazed out the window into the crumbling industrial district on the western edges of the city. My eyes were drawn to the side of a large, forlorn building, where a billboard had long ago been painted onto the brick façade. The paint was faded and chipped and I squinted to read the words:

“Advertise Here!”

I wondered to myself why the advertising space had fallen into disuse.

Until my gaze returned to the inside of the train.

Where almost every passenger was looking into their laps. Staring into their mobile devices.

We can’t even be advertised to communally anymore. Because we’re all looking down, inward, nurturing our customized lives. Is it any wonder that we get used to having what we want, when we want it? Is it any wonder we end up isolated and lonely? Is it any wonder every other person begins to feel alien and other?

What is the answer? To download a social media app?

I don’t think so. I think the answer is to look up again. I think a sense of community thrives on everyone looking at the same things. And we are losing that ability.

So, today, look up.

  1. Leave the phone at home. Wait for the panic about that to pass, and then just do it!
  2. As you go through your day with your eyes up, attend to the people who are passing in and out of your life.
  3. Give them names. If you have any kind of opportunity, actually ask them their names.
  4. Tell a story to yourself about who they are and what they’ve been through today. Make them come to life again in your world.

You may just feel your heart breaking open for people again. You might discover they are the same kind of different as you.

Question: When you put your phone away and attend to the world, what do you enjoy about the experience? What makes it hard to do so? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Heather Ann Nikutta

    This putting down the phone thing is quite a challenge. I know because I try to do it every so often and I find it harder and harder to do so. We live in a microwave, iphone society where we are accustomed to results and gratification in short order. It is my opinion that as we are all drawing inward, we are also losing our social graces and social boundaries as well. What was once unacceptable, is becoming accepted. Not only is life drawing inward, it is becoming very selfish and self gratifying. It’s a slippery slope that we will all, or have all, fallen into unless we make a very conscious decision to put our phones down (lap tops, kindles, and ipods included), reconnect with our communities and see that there is a whole world outside of our own making.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Absolutely, Heather.

  • Kim

    I love “Tell a story to yourself about who they are and what they’ve been through today”. I try to do this out loud with my boys, as often as I can, to show them that we can see the world through gentle, open eyes, and it can make our OWN lives more peaceful.

    So if someone speeds by us and cuts off off in traffic, I might say “wow, that person is in a huge hurry. I hate that feeling. They must be having a hard day” or “hey! maybe that guy is rushing to the hospital because his wife is having a baby!”. They are just as likely to be true as “what a jerk!” and keeps all of us open to gentleness and understanding.

    • drkellyflanagan

      What a beautiful, tangible example of grace for your children, Kim. I’m going to steal it and try to do it with my own children, as well.

  • Susabella

    As my grandmother used to say, fiddle-dee-dee. Not about your post,which was fantastic. As a matter of fact, it arrived on both our phones as my husband and I drove to the airport this morning and we commented about how much we appreciate your weekly contributions. Such good stuff.

    No, fiddle-dee-dee was about the fact that I just wrote a long comment and lost it. I usually take that as a sort of sign that it needed to be adjusted somehow. So, I’m trying again.

    Yesterday, I subbed at my local high school. I noticed how many of the kids pulled out their phones when they had some free time (and sometimes when they didn’t). It seems to me that the presence of phones in our lives is ubiquitous now, and I want to suggest a Both/And approach. What if those of us who believe in connection with others still carry our phones but live by example what it looks like to connect WHILE carrying a phone?

    Seems to me that what will make a difference is when a group of us, or several groups of us begin to reach out to those around us. Just putting my phone away is going to be a little tough since there are SO many reasons to look at it. I need something that is even more satisfying to replace it with. Connecting with others is more satisfying, and it also seems harder to do these days. I want to be intentional about connecting with people, even while I have my phone with me.

    Such a great post, Kelly.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I think you’re right on. It would miss the point to leave the phone at home for a day and then go right back to using it in a disconnected way. We do have to find a way to carry it AND be connected. Thanks for this encouragement!

  • Catharine Phillips

    Our sixteen-year-old just informed us she is the only one of her friends without internet access on her cell phone. She says she is alternately proud of this fact, and, well, jealous of her friends. She studies at Starbucks (without her computer) as at home the computer is too tempting. I work with people who struggle with addiction (chemical and otherwise). I believe we all struggle with addiction of one sort or another, not just chemical use or gambling or pornography. Perhaps this might be termed a sort of Connection addiction which, as all addictions do, separates us from the world and people with whom we live. The rationalization which goes with Connection addiction is when we tell ourselves we are BETTER connected with the world and the people around us when we are electronically linked all the time.

    • Heather Ann Nikutta

      I also find that when I’m the most connected is when I’m also the most frazzled. If the phone isn’t ringing, I’m getting a text, or heaven forbid facebook just refreshed and I have 57 messages or notifications waiting for me…and sometimes, I’m ashamed to say, this connection seems more important than my family or friends who are sitting right in front of me. Although it’s good to be connected, I think it’s also good to place boundaries on how connected and when to be connected…which is not easy and sometimes feels impossible when you are facing addiction.

      • drkellyflanagan

        Heather, I hadn’t expected there to be a connection, but i think this coming week’s post and Tuesday Tip will continue to speak to this issue for you. Blessings as you fight the good fight to connect with those in your presence.

  • Jennifer Newell

    I think we are all becoming very attached to our phones. I have in recent weeks done a much better job of remembering to recharge my phone. But I still have times when I am hurrying out the door and I forget my phone altogether. This of course drives my family crazy since they cant get in touch with me.
    I think as long as we make rules about when we use our phones…like no phones at the dinner table. No phone use if we are play a family game or watching a movie together, you can have your phone and still maintain a healthy family life. Since I am all about the rules, this works for us and our family.