In order to feel more, and to feel the multiples ideas we aim to associate with ourselves, we connect. Nowadays we face a constant rush to retreat what we think we are, or aspire to be. It happens at work, with friends, within the educational context we encounter during our professional development and last but not least, even in families.
Although the concept of nuclear family have changed a lot during the last decades, family life today looks much as it always has with all the rituals preserved: programmed monthly dinners, holiday trips organized in advance, meetings to discuss the health of someone and urgent economical issues, little parties in occasion of birthdays or a newborn just arrived, and so on and so forth.
This is what you can think at a first glance, cause with a second reflection the first environment we face appears to be “squared” when you try to connect with them. All sort of photographs that can let us talk for more than a minute, online or Faceboook games, funny or strange videos content, Netflix or sky trendy tv programs… these are the things we share more often.
Then, what about ourselves? What about all the other aspect of our life and daily environmental inputs we receive at school, work, University and hangouts of all sort? We seems to be not comfortable to talk about our selves, avoiding deeper expression and articulation of feelings, sensations, ideas, enthusiasm for something we have learn or someone that have the power to tickle our empathy and attention.
In fact, if you pay attention to this attitude you’ll recognize it more often than what you thought it could be possible. Real time and face to face conversations seems to be migrated to the online world, where Gchat, Messenger, Skype and FaceTime subverted the ancient rules of active listening and efficient time dedicated to emotional relationships. My experience says that children like to be understood through their little expressions to parents and care givers, both at home than at school. Listening and speaking loudly, feeling part of a protected circle when the boundaries are clearly defined so they can count on, opening without censorship – they first learn to see other people as different from themselves and worthy of understanding and a connection to.
Being with others and connecting with the environment where conversation is allowed and stimulated represent the greatest chance to learn what other people, parents, friends, peers are thinking – and how they are saying that – by framing and delimiting it. This is a key to understand themselves better and recognize what their inner feeling are.
Usually I’m hearing parents asking the children info like these:
– “Hey honey, what did you do in class today? how you was sport? What about (name of BF)”?
– “What about the bad note you took yesterday? Did you recuperate it?
– “What do you need to be better at (different thing that define or undermine the children routine)”?
But is very very rare to heard a parent asking his/her creatures something close to that:
– “Hey honey what do you think mattered the most for you today in class? what do you enjoyed to learn at sport?”
– “What thing is so difficult for you in the subject you took such a bad note? Tell me about it so I can have the clue to help you, maybe… You know that I’ll always try:-)”
– “What is the thing you enjoy the most during (different thing that define the children routine) and how do you think you can receive more satisfactions with?
Information that people recognize, define and share (with more or less difficulties) should be sustained by relationships. The good ones play a big role – since little age – to help children be in someone else’s shoes, being aware and sensitive on other’s point of view, without avoid feelings related to angry, deny, mockery, bullying, fears. In fact, bullying is discouraged when young can put themselves in the place of others, being able to reflect autonomously on the future impact of their present and current actions.
Parents have the habit that “the right thing” should have the priority on everything else. Saying, hearing, acting for, fight for, work for, recognize, idealize this “right thing” can become a constant stress for children, discouraging them to see what can be defined as the other face of the medal that loose interest as it won’t be recognized as interesting or a source of valuable information by their parents, whose comprehension and reference is for them a constant need, research and a reward for curiosity and self-promotion.
One habit we have today is to avoid the moment of conversation, the one free from duties and basic information we need to have, so to handle everything under a sort of methodical and mechanical control. This is valid both for young than adults that, concealing the worth of their feelings, avoid to take part in a mutual “promenade” that might show, slowly and with efforts, how to understand and respect others’ feelings, pursuing an “authentic” performance that require awareness.
I found some references on this behavior in the work of Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, in a paragraph where she describes the attitude of middle students at the private school Holbrooke (upstate NY) regarding students’ lack of empathy.
At the meeting with twenty teachers she was submerged by their comments on students:
- Students don’t make eye contact
- They don’t respond to body language
- They have trouble listening. I have to rephrase a question many times beforeI’m not convinced they are interested in each a child will answer a question in class.
- I’m not convinced they are interested in each other. It is as though they all have some signs of being on Asperger’s spectrum. But that’s impossible. We are talking about a school wide problem.
It seems that teachers gave up the initial strong commitment and dedication to pursue the effort to educate their students to the ability to listen to each other, to respect other’s feeling that should not be hurt (cause when they try to get them to see what has happened with their behavior the result is a sort of missed representation of what happened to the other side) educating on the basic rules of turn-taking in conversation.
Every school professional seems to have a valuable explication for what is happening in front of them, to these kids, the representatives of the overall changes they observe. They can say things like that: maybe these kids grew-up playing video games instead of reading and did not develop their imagination; maybe the same reason kept them away from playground where they would have developed important social skills. Continuing the argumentation, reaching the pleasure “to judge” the private life of the kids: perhaps the problem is parental over scheduling and a missed habit to involve the kids in deep and caring conversations where everyone pay real attention to shared words, saw as exposed brickwork that help to look in each others eyes, being happy to explore trust and advisory despite a positive or negative value given to what is said.
Prof. Turkle confirm that usually teachers confess her that they had chosen this career for the thrill of watching children discover a gift and the ability to concentrate on it, both during school time then in their spare time. But along different challenges and recognizing the many problems saw at school, year after year, they seems to do not have this pleasure anymore. They do not have the full commitment to the members of the class. Students, despite some exceptions, are usually described as distracted and affiliated only for specific purposes that require a deep, short-term connection to gain the high results or the objectives expected from them. It will gave them the reinforcement they need to share abilities or response to duties. Once gained, the vicious circle can begin another time, as a closed, fragile and acknowledged circuit.
The work of psychiatrist Daniel Siegel has taught us that children needs eye contact to develop part of the brain involved with attachment and empathy through face-to-face conversation. Eye contact is fundamental to be in connection with the other:
Repeated tens of thousands of times in the child’s life these small moments of mutual rapport [serve to] transmit the best part of our humanity – our capacity of love -from one generation t the next.
A cognitive neuroscientist, Atsushi Senju, studies the development of this mechanism through time until the reach of adulthood showing how eye contact activate the part of the brain that allow us to process person’s feelings and intentions. If we want to be more precise about that, emoticon on text and emails do not have the same effect. Why? well, they do not help the brain to cope and compute all the body non verbal signals readable from others.
Empathy requires time and emotional discipline. It means be patient and be (even in silence) with the person(s) that you care, long enough, without giving any judgement or any advice for what you had or would do in the same circumstances.
Connecting with others means learn how to offer each other. Handling the different feeling with presence and attention that could became new skills; habits of perspective.