Becoming a Stranger to Connection

When eating with friends or family members, at some point they all check their phones to see a text, a notification, or anything that easily distracts them from the moment of having lunch or dinner with the people present.

This taken-for-granted behavior does not stop at lunches, but even I succumb to reaching for my phone as I wait to enter a dance class or even as I watch a movie with my family. To be honest, I am more likely to pull out a book. Nevertheless, in the case of waiting in the hallway for a dance class there is an opportunity to meet someone new or even talk to the instructor, yet I am afraid I’ll have nothing to say or I will be terribly boring. Worse, I am afraid I am too deep and might ask questions that go beyond surface-level questions like “How do you like the weather lately?”

Touching on this topic in Success through Stillness, the author Russell Simmons discusses the benefits and the importance of being mindfully aware of one’s actions. Though he brought up multiple insightful arguments and examples, I related mostly when he talked about the disconnection some of us experience when we choose to reach for our phones or any device as a way to avoid the realities of life. He writes:

You know they’re not really responding to an urgent e-mail. Instead, like most of us can, they’re feeling a little shy or awkward in a social environment. Yet instead of getting past that awkwardness and walking over, introducing themselves to a stranger and starting up a conversation, or even just dancing by themselves, they’re taking refuge in the distraction their cell phones provide. But getting past that awkwardness and shyness and striking up a conversation with a stranger is often how you take your life to the next level. Striking up a conversation with someone you barely know might be how you meet the man who will become your husband or the person who wants to invest in your business. Or simply make a new friend. You don’t make those types of connections when you’re staring at your phone in the middle of a party. But you can make them when you feel at ease with yourself enough to take a chance and introduce yourself to a stranger. (Simmons 114-115)

Simmons suggests an approach such as meditation, to develop one’s confidence, or to become “at ease with yourself.” Incidentally, some scholars, scientists, and practitioners seem to prefer the term mindful awareness practice instead of meditation because of religious connotations attached to the word. However, I think the ‘practice’ helps to address one’s social anxiety by changing one’s relationship to self-deprecating and distorted thoughts about oneself and the situation.

At the end of the day, not every situation is a result of social anxiety. The behavior can simply be a habit of ‘plugging-in’ instead of being present. However, avoiding life because one feels too self-conscious robs one from the opportunity to be fully engaged in life with all its beauty and mystery.

Again, I admit I am quite shy and awkward, but I do love to genuinely connect with people. I love learning about their interests, their thoughts, their fears, their family, their culture, their goals, and most importantly what matters to them. I realized that connecting with another human being is much more important to me than the fear of the possibility of disconnection or rejection.

Regardless of the outcome, each relationship is an opportunity to learn about others and to learn more about oneself.  I would not want to avoid life using a cellphone because I was too afraid of being myself and too afraid to connect with another person. As I am constantly reminded, life is too short to be lived in fear.

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