It’s Time to ComMUnicate

Bursting the Bubble, Segment 4.

In my previous three segments I've talked a lot about race, gender, and non-university affiliation being major barriers in the desire to reach out and communicate with others. However, it occurs to me that even if you were to ride in an elevator with an identical copy of yourself, there are other reasons why you wouldn't necessarily feel the need to start conversation.

We see it all the time. Students are waiting outside a classroom before the professor arrives and unlocks the door; instead of talking with classmates about an upcoming exam or assignment, or the basketball game this weekend- everyone has their eyes and attention fixed on their phones.

Or another example: You’re standing in the elevator and even though you haven’t received an alert or notification on your phone, you take it out and scroll to look busy in the 30 seconds it takes to go up four floors.

Now this segment isn't meant to be the spiel your grandma gives you that technology is ruining our lives and “back in her day she didn't have the texting and the YouTube and the Facebook” to keep people from talking to each other. Instead, I would argue that technology is not often the reason why we don’t connect, but is what we rely on so we don’t have to.

To demonstrate what I mean by this let’s go back to the waiting outside the classroom and elevator scenario I created. I would argue that more often than not we don’t actually feel a need or desire to be texting or on Facebook, Instagram, whatever, as we wait outside the classroom or in the elevator; we just feel a need or desire to fill the time that so that we don’t have to communicate with people around us…and because standing there not texting or talking to anyone would just be plain awkward.

Now I’m no Sigmund Freud or Carl Rogers, and I’m not going to try to speak to the inner psyche of the mind that prompts secluding behaviors. It’s really only important to recognize that these behaviors do exist and then to consider why they are detrimental.

With the distinction that the phone (or any other means of distraction) is not causing a person to refrain from reaching out and starting a conversation, but is instead the way we make ourselves feel better about it, I realize that it’s not as simple as telling myself to simply put down my phone. It’s first realizing how beneficial conversation is, so that I’m convinced I don’t need my phone to make me look or feel preoccupied.

So now that we can recognize the motives to our behavior, I have 3 benefits to conversations with strangers that will hopefully convince that we should neglect our “like” buttons and candy crushers for the 3 minutes before class, instead of the person next to us.

Here goes…

1. You’ll learn new things

A famous man once said…“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Needless to say, Bill Nye was pretty deep for a guy that showed us at age 7 how to use air pressure to make an egg fit through a bottleneck. Regardless, “the science guy” has a point. Anyone we meet, whether it is in our classes, waiting at the bus stop, or at the bar, knows something we don’t. If you are even the least bit curious, you’ll realize that conversation with anyone and everyone has potential help us learn some bit of knowledge or another’s personal experience.

2. You’ll strengthen yours and others sense of community

With the first point in mind, I realize that sometimes time or environment do not permit an exchange of knowledge or personal experience and you might not always be able to learn from someone- but you can always share greetings or small talk. There might not be an immediate benefit to the conversation, but what it does offer is a greater sense of contentedness or community for you and the person you’re speaking with. This will strengthen any community- whether it’s classroom community, a student organization, MU, or MKE.

3. You’ll be happier

In study done just this year in Chicago, researchers asked participants on their normal bus and train commutes to either connect with a stranger near them, to remain disconnected, or to commute as normal. What they found is that participants in the experiments not only underestimated others’ interest in connecting, but also reported positive experiences from speaking with strangers and by being spoken to. Epley, a researcher in the study reported, “Connecting with strangers on a train may not bring the same long-term benefits as connecting with friends, but commuters on a train into downtown Chicago reported a significantly more positive commute when they connected with a stranger than when they sat in solitude.”

Concluding with sonder

As I type this conclusions header I see that the word “sonder” gets a red squiggly line under it, indicating to me that what I have typed is actually not a word. I type it in to and it asks me “do you mean…?”

No. I mean sonder.

Strangely enough, I feel that it is very appropriate for this word to have such a mysterious existence (because it does exist- proof below from Pinterest and YouTube). It is appropriate for it to have mysterious existence, because it itself has a mysterious meaning. Sonder, being “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own,” makes us consider that living a life within our own bubble is only seeing a small fraction of life. The more we integrate our lives with those around us, the more potential we have for a richer and more meaningful life.

While it may be uncomfortable at first, with practice, conversing with those around you can become both enjoyable and rewarding.

“The Dictionary of Obscure Words”
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