Monday, March 19, 2018

Human Relationships

The Human Condition

“No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee....”

John Donne [1572–1631], Meditation 17
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624)

Young People’s Concerts (YPC) with young people in close proximity to Leonard Bernstein [1918–1990], conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Bernstein conducted a total of 53 YPC performances between 1958 and 1972—first at Carnegie Hall and then at Lincoln Center. There was an audience who were physically present, who were not facing the kind of distractions (chiefly from “social media) that young people today routinely face. As an educator, Bernstein has a engaging way with both his young audience and old audience alike. Music not only speaks a universal language; it brings people together. For a wonderful example, you can view the beginning of the first Bernstein YPC concert shown here; It is titled “What Does Music Mean?” (CBS-TV; on January 18, 1958), The full script can be read here. We need more shows like this today, notably if we as a society care about such things as sincerity, authenticity, imagination and intimacy, so lacking today in “new media” productions.

We are social beings, with a need to connect, to bond and to form relationships with each other. “No Man is an Island,” John Donne, the 17th century metaphysical poet, reminds us in his famous piece of prose turned into a poem; and I am here bringing this down to its most essential meaning to raise a point, an issue, that is important to all of us, in that we are all human and want what all humans want. Or at least we start out that way as children; and over time things fall apart.

Persons who are isolated, who are alienated from society, who are outside of social circles, and who have the inability to form relationships with others suffer immensely as a result. When such persons, by reasons of innate personality or illness or experiential circumstances, do not or can not form human relationships, they suffer loneliness, alienation and social anxiety. The pain of exclusion is real, and there are tangible consequences. This is no doubt tragic, since this is what humans are meant to do, what is among the primary purpose of all humans.

So, in pursuit of this, many enter a space that is not really a space in the physical sense or in any measurable way or in any real way; and this “space” is given a nice-sounding name: “social media,” which is what it is named, because it contains the promise of being social, to connect with others, of sociability. This is or becomes the only or the main means that many people today have with the outside world, even though it is as unreal as unreal can be, as lacking in any form of human connectedness as one could or would expect with being in a non-existent space.

Many, particularly the young, argue that it does exist. If so, consider the following questions about the 15-year social experiment that claims the whole world as its laboratory: Is this the best that humans can offer humanity? Is this necessarily good?  Has it actually made persons less sociable? less willing to be sincere, open, honest, authentic? Has it actually made too many people more hostile, fearful and angry? Sufficient anecdotal evidence says that this is so; science might eventually confirm this, although I do not see this happening soon. 

Yet, for many it has to do for now, either because of low expectations or because that is all they know, a result of long-term conditioning, where social media acts as a replacement for intimate friendship, intimate relationships, intimate talks and discussions. When you think about it, you conclude that this, “social media,” is but a poor replacement. Even this blog is only a blog, written from my 6th floor apartment in Toronto, which in no way can replace the contact that humans need and find essential to their well-being.

Human relationships require physical proximity, they require time, they require sincerity, they require nurturing. Yet, some, probably more than some, have only the counterfeit, it appearing genuine in people’s minds. Yet, it must be said that the counterfeit, no matter how it appears, is only that which it is. It is a cheap forgery, poorly imagined and poorly constructed, bereft of authenticity. If such is the case, and I have no doubt that it is, then “social media” cannot meet the normal expectation of human relationships. Its purpose is outside of this realm.

Yet, it starts early, this entering of an unreal space for many children, through online games and video games, many of them violent, which has replaced the real world of play and imagination with very real-world consequences, including social alienation and social isolation (see “Was Your Childhood Happy?; November 18, 2013). As a parent, I tried to play some of the online games my older son plays, but I found these too violent. It was not possible for me to play for more than a few minutes.

Social media, of which I was a willing participant for some time, suffers from a similar problem; not surprising, I have found it wanting of late. So, it is now natural and normal for me to say, “No, I do not think or believe that this is the best that humans can offer.” Far from it, especially if you consider what existed before and which now does not much exist for free public viewing, such as the Young People’s Concerts. In the Age of Social Media, there has been a “progression” to mediocrity, narcissism, and vulgarity. I am not sure if this is what the public wants, but it is what it gets.

Seeing this reality, some have decided to do something about it. In other words, throw out the forgery and look to obtain the real item. Or simply put, forget social media altogether (e.g., I closed all of my accounts; this blog remains open for now), viewing it as a unnecessary and tiring effort with no reward or benefit of personal relationships of any type. Now, having done this recently, I can happily say that this is a worthwhile endeavor on the journey for meaning and purpose. 

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