It’s time for the annual ritual of making promises to ourselves about what we will change in the coming year. In that spirit, consider a few resolutions that would make us and those we care about better communication partners.
Resolve to be a better listener.
Becoming an engaged listener is like losing weight: it’s harder than it sounds. It requires momentarily giving ourselves over to what another is saying. That must include minimizing other distractions, turning off the far too loquacious chatterbox camped out in our brains, and accepting the challenge of bringing our full attention to another. We can’t do this with everyone all the time. Listening for nuance is work. Start with the people that matter most.
Protect your soul by deciding to be a more thoughtful gatekeeper and information consumer.
We allow a lot of worthless messages into our lives: junk journalism, junk advertising, aimless web-browsing, mean-spirited trolls and the self-obsessed. As tech writer Farhad Manjoo noted last year in the New York Times, the Internet is “loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly.” It “now seems to be on constant boil.” So it takes far more personal discipline to keep this stuff at bay and to hold on to our social equilibrium.
The key is to stay in the discursive world of long-form discourse as much as possible, spending time on articles rather than tweets, in-depth journalism instead of ‘news summaries,’ films in place of youtube videos.
Work to put a reasonable limit on the time your children spend with all kinds of screens.
The American Pediatric Association recommends that children under two spend no time in front of screens. They need more interactivity as they begin to grow. Remember that “virtual reality” is a desert compared to the natural world. Rediscover local parks or just the simple pleasures of a walk around the block. With my own grandkids it’s been fun to relearn the truth that even young children are naturally weatherized. Most love to be out and active even in the cold.
Resolve to save important feelings and information for face to face discussion.
Proximity with others usually brings out the best in us. Media that act as surrogates for ourselves (even misnamed “social” media) offer only selected approximations of the real deal.
Listen to more music.
Because it’s almost exclusively the language of feeling, music unites us in ways that ordinary rhetoric can’t. A friend reports that Mozart has been a nice escape from the numbing effects of recent political news.
Help seniors take a break from television news.
We have convincing research that many older Americans succumb to a deep and unhealthy pessimism fed by too much news and mayhem. Television is often how they pass the time, especially if they live in a facility. Do what you can to show them the more normal world outside their door.
Don’t believe everything you read.
Apply some healthy skepticism to both real news stories, as well as the paid “clickbait” stories that are often nearby. In 2016 has shown us anything, it’s that too many Americans form attitudes from conjecture and misinformation, often from low-credibility sources.
With the possible exception of those strange relatives up in Duluth, resist dividing the world into “us” and “them.”
We may think in simple binaries. But In the end, the complexities of individual lives will always deal the deck that we and others have to play. Even after this brutal presidential election we need to find the intellectual honesty to acknowledge the inadequacies of our labels.