Surviving In A Disconnected World

LIVING

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Part 2

The people who have the most trouble have the least amount of support.

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"One thing that's consistent with the people I see in crisis is that they experience themselves having a significant lack of or loss of support," said Lee Kennedy, a counselor with Rim Guidance Center.

So said Rim Guidance counselor Lee Kennedy.

"One thing that's consistent with the people I see in crisis is that they experience themselves having a significant lack of or loss of support," she said.

In Part 1 of this series, Kennedy talked about the factors in today's society that cause people to become increasingly disconnected from the traditional support groups like family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. They include:

• Television and other electronic entertainment.

• High divorce rates.

• A corporate world that doesn't make long-term commitments to its employees.

• General "busyness" -- not enough time.

  • The demise of front porches and an increase in fences and other inhibitors of neighborliness.

Spontaneity, Kennedy believes, is also becoming a lost art.

"I thought the other day about dropping in on a friend and I just couldn't do it, and the person told me I could do it," she said. "I haven't done that for so long, it's almost like I've forgotten how to drop in on people. It's like a foreign concept."

While Kennedy laments the loss of a lifestyle that encouraged the development and nourishment of support groups, she said there are lots of ways people can still stay connected -- but it takes a conscious effort.

"It's the whole idea of being available -- availability and accessibility, those are things you actually have to plan and organize," she said. "It's not people just dropping in like they used to.

"Some people I know even make play dates with their children."

It's all about making time priorities in your schedule so the important activities don't slip through the cracks.

"My sister, for instance, says she just really has to work hard to (keep in touch with people who matter)," Kennedy said. "But if you don't choose to make it happen, it would be really easy for those relationships you do have to slip away."

One way Kennedy keeps in touch is to schedule whole days to spend with different friends in the Valley.

"But I have to organize it," she said. "I have to plan a week or two ahead of time, and we have to get our schedules together.

"It takes time, but these are people who have been friends for 20-25 years. I want to stay in touch with them.

"When we're together we inhabit a world we both know because we've been there. That is important to me."

Kennedy tells of a 40-year reunion of a group of women who belonged to the same sorority at Arizona State University.

"Twenty-five of the original 29 showed up," she said. "Most of them came because it was a group of people that they knew at a certain point in time.

"I think everybody wanted to hear each other's stories -- who have you been and who are you now and how have you lived through this period."

Of course, being there physically is only part of the equation. Too many people, Kennedy said, have forgotten how to listen.

"Ever notice in conversations how many people don't listen?" she asked. "They talk, so obviously they wish to be heard.

"But if you have a whole lot of people who really need to be heard, you will hear a lot of really disconnected talking with hardly anybody taking the time to be present and listen. It's hard to have relationships that are really good unless you are a good listener."

It's important to make the same effort to connect in the workplace that you do in your personal life. One way to begin is by assessing your job's personal satisfaction factor.

"I think we all have to ask ourselves when we're working so hard, are we getting what we want out of it?" Kennedy said. "Most people think they're working for something, but sometimes I think we're just doing it and we forget that there could be a ‘for something.'

"As you're working there is no rule that says you can't be enjoying other things too, that you can't be working and laughing, working and enjoying, working and being supportive, working and sharing positive things as opposed to negative things."

One workplace custom Kennedy thinks needs to be revitalized is going to lunch.

"When I started working everyone went to lunch with somebody for an hour," she said. "You never heard of anybody who didn't go to lunch.

"Today if they do I don't see them. I know, I don't go to lunch. We take something to our desk and we eat it as we continue to make phone calls, maybe write on the computer, and continue to organize work."

A concerted effort by enough people can revitalize neighborhoods too.

"There are some neighborhoods where they are actually thinking about quality of life in the neighborhood and they go out of their way to visit new people," Kennedy said. "In my parents' neighborhood there are lots of young people who are very busy, yet they are going out of their way to get together with neighbors.

"They're cooking for each other; they're watching each other's pets; they're helping each other. They mowed my parents' lawn. Nobody even asked them to."

Another way to get to really know your neighbors is to go walking with them, an opportunity Kennedy discovered by chance.

"One of the nicest experiences I had last summer was with some girls who were doing a cancer awareness walk," she said. "One of the things we started doing was just walking early in the morning, and when you walk for an hour and a half you talk -- about everything.

"It's different from going to a gym and being on a treadmill by yourself -- it's just different.

"It's the same with running. If you run with somebody, you're doing more than just exercising -- you're connecting."

Another tried and true option for connecting is church.

"I think people have fallen away from churches, which is one of the major places where you had a common spiritual or ethical orientation, where you used to find all generations of families in the same place," Kennedy said. "It's a place where there are a lot of activities, where everybody knows who you were, who your parents were. They might even have known who your grandparents were."

Connecting can be as simple as going through the supermarket checkout where you see a friendly face.

"My mother says when she goes shopping she always goes out of her way to be checked out at a place where somebody is friendly or she knows them," Kennedy said.

Finally, a lot of people who are looking for connections are finding them on a global scale.

"Because we are exposed to so much information these days, a lot of people think of themselves as part of the planet," Kennedy said.

"Maybe that's why there's more causes -- ecology, saving animals.

"Maybe when you can't connect with people on a small level, maybe you identify with a cause, because then you at least get a sense of involvement."

In the final analysis connecting is a choice and an attitude.

"I guess my conclusion is we need to be thinking about whether we're connecting enough to be happy and healthy," Kennedy said.

"What are the signs that you're healthy and happy? You're eating healthy food. You're probably sleeping decently, probably calm and feeling content. You don't feel alone; you feel there are people in your life who know you're there, who care that you're there, who you check on and they check on you.

"I associate health with singing, laughing, dancing, eating, exercising and enjoying very uncomplicated talk with other people in person -- not on the phone or e-mail -- and some kind of exercise.

"It all requires consciousness, energy and time, but I think in the long run when you do it you save energy and time because you are not going to be prone to doing things that damage you."

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