Slow down and connect

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I watched from a respectful distance, tears pooling in my eyes as the ritual unfolded. Into the box went all the contents of her desk, all the pictures that inspired her, all the instruments that brought her craft to life. A respected journalist, a seasoned author, a gifted observer of life, she was leaving this job because she was caught in a wave of layoffs that seemed to sweep away the veterans in favor of young, but agile, purveyors of digital thought.

I wonder about the loss.

Industry moves at the speed of light, multiplied by the speed of sound. All communication speeds along these days. Everything is quick and getting quicker. And it’s all young and getting younger. The rewards and the riches seem to go to those who can process information internet-fast and make a mark in fewer than 140 characters, the ones who intuit the internet. They are fresh-faced and unscarred. What is to become of a society where everything is new and moves too quickly to listen to the wisdom of experience?

What is to become of the survivors? Life has a way of teaching all of us. That’s not a bad thing. During the slower days, before the lightning fast communication superhighway, people learned things. They worked hard at their jobs, to be sure, but they also worked hard at learning about how people work. They built businesses and grew families, made friends and mended fences. They bumped up against one another, tested new theories against old ones and gathered valuable information about human nature. There was time, at that slower pace, to make mistakes and learn valuable lessons from them. The lessons were enduring ones, ones that left their marks — deep and wide scars that glisten white now, faded with the passage of years.

Almost daily, I talk with people who have the scars and they shake their heads in dismayed wonder. We have a new class of elderly, a generation dismissed by young adults because they aren’t as agile online. They are not old. They are middle-aged, an age at which previous generations found themselves managing younger people. They are moms whose children are nearly grown and gone, looking to take on the awesome and beautiful responsibility of Titus 2, but finding themselves cast aside because in this carefully curated, photo-shopped new world, there is no value in scars or age spots or gray hair. Instead of mentoring and wisdom-sharing, valuable human resources at precisely the place where experience meets expertise in terms of almost every human interaction are being cast aside for the quickness of action that is the future.

Quick carelessness. Quick dismissiveness. Discarding wisdom, even disdaining it, in favor of slick images and the rapid repartee of Twitter.

Here’s the thing: the scars are wounds that have healed, the age spots come from days turned toward the Son, the gray hairs are countless sleepless nights spent learning hard lessons that come with bumping up against human brokenness again and again. Together, these are the things that make us real to one another. These are the experiences that sensitize us to the humanity of one another. They are the wisdom intended to be passed down in order to preserve and protect mankind.

With those scars, comes humility. It is the learned understanding that we don’t know what we don’t know, that the world is vast and the human soul bottomless and we’re all still learning, changing, and, hopefully, growing. Humility says, you’ve been here before me, please share what you learned. Ironically, humility is often learned in the trenches of experience. It’s the veteran who knows the value of asking honest questions and seeking hard-earned wisdom.

Maybe lift your hands from a keyboard. Maybe look someone in the eyes. Maybe instead of FaceTime or Google Hangout, you opt to sit down together at a table. Break bread. Share space. Real, actual space that is full of nuance and breath and human warmth.

We were made for slow communication with one another.

Don’t be too quick to discard the people who remember a time when time didn’t move so quickly. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the valuable things they know about people — the things they learned before every face was illuminated by a handheld computer that both connects us and disembodies us.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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