Connecting in Isolation

Montreat, North Carolina

I just returned from four days in a miraculous place— Montreat, North Carolina. The peaceful, picturesque village sits nestled in a perfectly pristine pocket that exemplifies some of God’s finest handiwork. Though the temperature hovered near the single digits, the still, stately Black mountains seemed to envelope the eleven of us like a lush, tonal blanket—sprinkled with glistening stars of ice in the day and shimmering droplets of light in the deep, velvet night.

The event featured many fascinating people, presentations, and workshops—intertwined with personal introspection and self-discovery. It is what many have deemed a “thin place”—a location on earth where the veil separating the spiritual realm and the material world is slightly more diaphanous—perhaps, even permeable at times.

This is a place where hearts hunger and souls search.
It is a place where the emotional epiphanies are as significant at the intellectual insights—where relationships with acquaintances deepen and the murkiness of life’s choices becomes profoundly clear.

But this serene setting was only part of the magic. The Rev Brian Blount, President of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, a commanding, compassionate presence, proclaimed during the first night’s session, “You are those God has called” to help nurture and guide our youth. And much like Dorothy, who travels to the exotic Emerald City in search of what is missing in her life, I found the most potent wisdom right there among the very people who accompanied me to this remarkable destination. Silly and seasoned; sassy and sweet; sardonic and soothing—these special spirits shared rich truths and many a poignant moment.

I was humbled and honored to be in this eclectic First Presbyterian Church entourage.

Erika Funk, Youth Initiative Minister of Broad Street Church in Philadelphia, spoke about the lack of empathy she sees in so many of our youth. Is the pseudo interaction of texting and IMing developing a false sense of intimacy—impairing our ability to measure, assess, and manage interpersonal communication effectively? Fundamentally, are we losing the ability to truly “be” with people? It’s a disturbing notion. She is concerned that our young people may be stepping back and away from those in need. “I see a fear of the homeless,” she says. She suspects this may be the consequence of this under-developed empathy and increasing personal isolation. It’s as if our powers of observation and understanding are evaporating.

“There are just fewer and fewer instructions for being human,” Funk laments.

That resonated with me. The paradox is chilling. Is our humanity really waning as we mindlessly create more and more ways to connect? ‘Tis a question worth pondering—in many realms of life—especially since turning back the hands of time is not really a viable option. If this “erzatz engagement” is the new reality, perhaps it is time to revise our expectations of interaction. Or, is it? What does it mean to the way we approach and frame our communication—now and in the future?

What are your thoughts? What do you think about the behavior changes media drives?

Peas in a Pod

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more.

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