You see, I believe that we are born with the unique gift of independent will—the idea that we can make our own choices regardless of distractions, conditions and emotions. It is our our ability to make a decision in the moment, even if it goes against the grain, that differentiates us. But, some might question if we have been exercising that gift consistently over time.
It is innately human to connect with one another. We were built to interact with other humans and in order to truly connect, we must engage certain core muscles and senses. To be clear, I am referencing all of our senses and not just our physical muscles.
Our social muscles are waning as we hide behind technology. Consider how little we simply go out and introduce ourselves to people. Approaching someone who has caught our eye has become a terrifying proposition because we would never risk getting rejected. Avoiding confrontation is the national pastime and listening to another person without distraction is a rarity.
Your body hurts after a robust training session because you break down muscles in an effort to build them up over time. In turn, as your muscles get stronger, the pain subsides and growth occurs. It follows that our other senses need the same kind of attention and training. Taking the uncomfortable or awkward first steps of any personal engagement leads to stronger social muscles over time.
We were already socially distant long before the virus came into our world. We seem to have turned all social discomfort over to technology and we shy away from in person conflict. We protect ourselves from all the bad stuff we know is outside. And we playdate our kids from the moment they are born, depriving them of building their own social muscles through experience.
Creative & Intellectual Atrophy
On my recent podcast with Martin Lindstrom, he mentioned that boredom was the foundation of creativity. I laughed because I was bored a lot as a kid and I was forced to use my imagination to create the memories of a lifetime. And the best part of those memories is that they were all mine. I didn’t need them recorded. I didn’t need to take a picture or a selfie. To this day, I hold those memories in my heart and mind and nobody can question them nor distort them.
We are never bored. We are entertained to no end and we don’t need to be creative because it’s already done for us. Consequently, the memories we create are rooted in leveling up in Fortnite. How enthralling it will be to hear our sons and daughters share the stories of endless hours of gaming with their own kids. Some gripping tales of Snapchat and TikTok will keep the grandkids riveted for hours.
The reality is that we have not been using our senses and touch is the dominant sense that we use to interpret the world. We know that if we touch a hot stove, we will remember the burn. If we bump into somebody, we know that we’ve invaded their personal space or they’ve invaded ours. If someone puts their arm around you or gives you a hug, you know they care about you. If you shake hands and it’s a firm grip, a feeling of respect ensues. And printed content connects because we feel an ownership that only touch can provide.
When a tiger is caged in a zoo, they lose what makes them a tiger in the first place. Touch combined with independent will and creativity allows us to engage all of our senses and be uniquely human. But I fear that we have locked those senses away like a caged animal and that we were losing our humanness long before this virus came to the scene.
You could argue that we have not been using our intellectual muscles either. When the answers are all at our fingertips how can we build intellect? The fact is that we don’t have to think for ourselves when we can simply Google the answers. Clearly, the virus is real and it is super dangerous in the moment. But the cultural derailment that we have incurred could last much longer.
The pandemic also shines a light on the fact that we have been living the wrong way and it highlights the antiseptic world that we are venturing deeper into. The experience of being touched has direct and crucial effects on the growth of the body as well as the mind. Touch is a means of communication so critical that its absence retards growth. Lindstrom referenced studies where rats left untouched died while others that were touched thrived. Make no mistake that touch is critical. It demonstrates a parent’s loving presence, friendship, empathy and optimism.
A pristine environment can easily be disrupted with the slightest of contaminants. So, if we continue to cocoon ourselves behind technology we will create our own personal antiseptic worlds. All of our muscles—social, spiritual, intellectual, creative and emotional—will atrophy. And when your muscles weaken, your immune system starts to fail, your senses start to disappear and then you disappear.
When we sit behind technology we become completely cocooned. And cocooning is inhuman. We were meant to touch each other. We were meant to be bored and be creative and use our imaginations. We were meant to embrace each other. And we were meant to build character through our experiences.
This virus is dangerous. However, it offers us a remarkable opportunity to reengage those senses and rebuild our muscles. We can use this time to reach out and be conscious of others. We can use the time to rethink possibilities and ignite our creativity. It’s time to let ourselves be bored and not let this crisis go to waste. We can use this time to imagine a new normal and a better version of ourselves individually and collectively. In other words, we can start rebuilding our senses that provide immunity against anything that challenges our humaness.
Be safe. Be hopeful. And be human!