The Pain of Disconnection
COVID-19 safety precautions have left us feeling disconnected from one another as if we are looking at the world through plexiglass, which, often, we are.
Why is this so painful? In the Community building talks I gave in 2018, I included stats like this:
- A 2018 article in the New York Times said that 13% of Americans feel that nobody really knows them.
- In his book Them, author Ben Sasse says that 25% of Americans feel they have nobody to talk to about the things that matter.
- A 2018 New Signa study on loneliness found that 50% of Americans sometimes or always feel alone.
This was 2018 – pre-COVID-19. Our loneliness epidemic was raging, even then.
The pandemic is exacerbating the loneliness already deeply felt in our culture. COVID-19 – inspired social distancing measures are causing another deadly disease; we are suffering from disconnection.
As I pondered what we could do about this, I found an answer when I was having problems with my Internet connection.
After three hours in online chats with a string of five service reps, nothing was resolved. There was a disconnect, not just between my computer and my Wifi signal but between me and service reps who had the power to restore order in my digital world. It seemed as if they Just. Didn’t. Care.
When they typed apologetic words in the chat, I felt as if they were merely copying and pasting from a script.
Then a tech returned after a prolonged absence and explained that his system had booted him out. When he said this, I felt a knee-jerk impulse to express impatience and rage, but something caused me, instead, to type, “That’s frustrating.”
He immediately apologized and I realized he thought I was expressing frustration with him. He didn’t recognize that I had offered empathy. How sad.
Suddenly, I saw him differently; I saw a person overwhelmed by calls from frustrated people who, like me, work online. Then followed a genuine exchange between the two of us, the first one I had ever had with a service rep.
COVID-19 is not only causing disconnection, it is shining a spotlight on the importance of connection, not just with people we reach out to for professional support, but the people we encounter everywhere in our lives.
Hidden behind these hot, uncomfortable masks, we don’t look friendly, and perhaps, tired as we are of wearing them, we don’t feel very friendly. But we can bridge the disconnect the masks exacerbate. We can dispel the pain of disconnection and loneliness brought on by social distancing. We can build bridges with kindness.
The smallest gesture can make a huge difference in a disconnected world.