A few days ago, this Internet cartoon drifted through my Facebook feed.
My reaction? Oh my God, YES.
So I shared it. And my friends and colleagues reacted the same way.
What is it about this that makes everybody I know react so strongly? I sat down to blog, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it. What is it that makes this idea important?
The answer struck like lightning at my kids’ PTA meeting last night.
Our school has a high overall level of parent involvement. The event was skillfully planned. Robust agenda. Thoroughly publicized. Food and childcare included. All this should be a recipe for a well-attended, highly successful meeting, right?
Exactly five parents showed up.
The result? Huge disappointment for the folks who worked so hard to make it happen. Big hard feelings of “does anybody really care anymore?” (This EVEN THOUGH the Facebook page for the PTA is quite active, and there were a ton of “So sorry I couldn’t make it, go PTA!” messages posted there.)
That crushing disappointment is the place where the meeting and the cartoon connect.
Because through technology, we’ve created a culture of convenience. And, all over the place, our cyber-induced complacency is short-circuiting relationships that matter.
It’s true that sometimes for real reasons (the economy forcing people to work two jobs) and more often for fake reasons (spending time sucked into Facebook or online games or email), we seem to have less time than ever before. It’s easy to connect with people via email and Facebook, in our own time, at our own schedule. It’s convenient and quick and we can do a lot more of it and feel very productive. Look at all the connections I have! Look at who I contacted today!
But at their heart, the very effortlessness of these connections devalues them.
In our deepest selves, we appreciate effort. It matters when we show up. When we connect in a physical way.
A virtual hug, however appreciated, can never hold the same value as feeling sheltered in the arms of a person who cares.
An email, however lovely, cannot substitute for the time and effort that goes into a card that is hand-chosen, handwritten, hand-stamped, hand-sent.
Online support and donations are valuable for a charity or service club or PTA. But they cannot replace the nurturing that comes from being present with people who need us.
In professional services, no amount of email, or newsletters, or excellent technical work, can substitute for face-to-face time with a client. Looking them in the eye. Hearing their concerns. Saying “You matter to me” in ways much louder than words.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Interwebs ever so slightly. Facebook, Twitter, email, and all the rest need to be a tool to augment personal interaction, not replace it. Don’t stop emailing or Facebooking. God no.
But sometimes, you just gotta show up.
In our hearts, we know this. It’s why this cartoon has been shared and shared and shared. Why we rejoice over cards in the mail and make a big deal when there’s a great turnout for the Food Bank workday.
If we want to make a lasting difference to the people around us – clients or friends or family – we must find a way to be physically, tangibly present when they need us. We can’t wait for other folks to do this work. It’s up to us. Even when it’s inconvenient.
Maybe especially when it’s inconvenient.