December 8, 2016

A Challenge to Be More Human.


I never thought I would forget what it means to be human.

I never imagined craving a warm smile from a stranger or a laugh with an old friend. And I mean a real laugh, not just imagining they are Laughing Out Loud from behind their computer screen.

These days, it seems like our only interactions with other humans take place behind a shield of technology; conversation only happens when a sure barrier of distance stands between us. No longer do we have the luxury of observing facial twitches, or shifts in body language. No longer do we have the ability to feed off of one’s energy face-to-face.

And sometimes, I crave those moments.

Sometimes, in this world of Twitter rants and fake Facebook news, I itch for the space to ponder and debate with other real human beings.I want to hear their voices, and respond in real time to their thoughts , instead of missing a beat because I’m thinking of a witty response.

Like most other 20-somethings, I am in awe of the progress social media has allowed our world to make: contact with long-lost friends and ones you have just met, instantaneous answers to burning questions like “How do I do laundry?” to name a few. But, like most other 20-somethings, I also remember the days when I didn’t fall asleep next to the bright glow of a cell phone. When I did things just for fun, and not just for the Instagram.

I remember those days, and I miss them.

To confront this, I propose a challenge to help us retreat to simpler times. The challenge is this: Have one meaningful human interaction a day.

You may be thinking that, sure, you already do. You go to work, you take the train, you have friends. You exist in society. Of course, you interact with other human beings at least once per day. But I’m asking you to take a closer look: Do you? Truly?

Upon further examination, what do those interactions look like? Do you nod, and smile, and rush to get back to whatever you were doing? Do you hurry to pick up your phone and tune out the rest of the conversation? Or are you already blocking out the world with your headphones?

I know, because I am just as guilty of these things as you probably are.

The other day, I read a story (on my phone, ironically) about a man who witnessed this beautifully human exchange on the subway platform between a policeman and a homeless man. At the end of his story, he asked: Would you notice something like this? It got me thinking, because nowadays, I don’t think I would. I think I would be too caught up in my political podcasts or Facebook statuses or skimming the latest breaking news story. And these time fillers are actually devoid of hope and connection, serving mostly to slash my hope for humanity.

I started my own version of this challenge yesterday, and was welcomed with a pleasant surprise.
On a morning that was already sh*tty and late and crowded, I expected my commute to be nothing more than bearable. And of course, as I arrived at my train with just enough time to make it to work, I heard the dreaded announcement: Extremely Delayed Service.

My fellow commuters shared my confusion-turned-dismay. Some of those who were less hopeful escaped from the underground quickly. By the time I gave up, there was already a crowd searching for cabs, way ahead of me. 

I resigned myself to hold out an arm for a ride, when I noticed a woman in front of me waving her arm frantically for a cab. The traffic was moving slowly. Her frustration wouldn’t make it go faster.

All of a sudden, a biker appeared from in between the crowded streets, right in front of Frantic Lady’s waving arm. In a split-second decision, Mr. Biker decided to give her a high five. He reached out and almost held her hand for a second, yelling behind him, “Have a good morning!”

Man, did she need that reminder. So did I.

The interaction made me tear up a little bit. Call me a cry baby but come on — how often do we see strangers remind us of our simple humanity?

Frantic Lady laughed and yelled back, “You too!”, her long braids shaking with laughter. All of us cab-less commuters laughed with her. It was like she — we — became defrosted in that moment. We remembered what’s really important in life.

So, Day 1 of my challenge holds strong. I will try to replace my inward-gazing moments with observation. With interactions.

With reminding myself what it means to be a human being.

Author: Katina Mountanos

Image: Flickr/Konrad Lembcke

Editor: Callie Rushton

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