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  • Writer's pictureLynn Denton

Look Up

I’m worried. People everywhere are walking with their heads down. They are young, they are quite elderly and they are in-between. They are not looking at the cracks in the sidewalk or the curbs. They are not looking at the traffic, traffic lights or stop signs. They are not looking at each other. They are looking at their phones.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as glued to my phone as the next person. I personally am not talented enough to walk and text at the same time, so I don’t do it. It’s purely a choice of self-preservation. Emergency Rooms are telling us that the incidence of accidents that have resulted from people not being “heads up” and aware of their surroundings is on the rise.

The Chicago Tribune recently featured several editorial pieces about people walking with their heads down, glued to their phones. It was generally about safety – running into things, near brushes with cars, neck injuries from looking down and texting elbow.

So there is the safety aspect. There is something else, though. There is the human contact aspect. In many neighborhoods, people greet each other when they are walking – saying hello, exchanging a smile or a glance, making a little eye contact…..even if they don’t know each other. It’s friendly and civilized and adds a sense of community. That is completely lost when people are looking down.

I have to wonder what our children are learning in a world where people are not making eye contact. How can you help the elderly person with their packages if you are not paying attention? How can you hold the door for the person behind you if you are texting? How can you pick up a wallet that someone dropped if you’re not looking around you?

Our civility in society, among strangers, might be being lost. What is the effect in our culture of not looking at one another?

Switching topics, but not really…..I’d like to talk about empathy. Empathy, which I have discussed before in my blog, is the ability to read/feel/see how another person is feeling and act towards them how you would want to be treated in that situation. Putting yourself in their shoes. So if you are with a friend who gets a phone call with some bad news – perhaps they didn’t get a job they applied for. You see their disappointment, and think that you would be disappointed in that situation too. You offer them words like, “Gosh, I’m sorry that didn’t work out. I hope something else will come along soon.”

Empathy is a critical quality for a civil society. And if you had to identify where on someone’s face you would look to see how they are feeling, it’s probably their eyes. So if we are not looking up, we can’t really see how others are feeling.

There is a lot of research conducted on empathy. Many of these studies have investigated the parts of the brain that fire when empathy is being engaged. The conclusion is that empathy can be taught, and that when people show and feel empathy, pathways in the brain are being reinforced. You can notice in children that some are very naturally quite empathic, and for others, it comes with more difficulty and more coaching is required.

As parents, we try to model and teach empathy as a general value of raising kids. You notice if your child is being unkind to another child during a play date and say to him or her in private, “Would you want Johnny to treat you like you are treating him right now?” You say out loud to yourself, ”Hmm, if I’m inviting this group over for dinner, I probably should include……” You see someone who has fallen on the sidewalk and go over to ask if they need help. You have your kids help make and bring a meal over to a sick friend. You say to your child, “I bet your friend Jenny is feeling sad since her grandfather passed away, should we invite her to go for ice cream?” You might take your children to Sunday School where they learn values and hear stories about being kind to others.

After a soccer game, you might say to your child, “Your friend Becky had a really tough day playing goalie today. Playing goalie is really hard.” Or “Kevin, I can see from your face that something is wrong. Do you want to talk about it?” We do it all the time, whether aware of it or not. That is how we teach our children empathy.

I came across a “loving kindness” exercise that I liked – it is about thinking about others and putting yourself in their shoes. It could be done daily, weekly, by yourself, with your family, in a journal, or in your head. It takes just a few minutes. Maybe it is something you might try in the New Year.

Think about a compassionate and caring thought to send (telepathically) to:

  1. A family member or friend,

  2. Someone you are having tension with,

  3. A stranger in a part of the world who is suffering,

  4. Yourself – showing compassion and forgiveness to YOU!

So, let’s go back to talking about looking up from our phones. Looking at others is how we read the people around us, those we know and those we don’t. So look up, and encourage others around you to look up, and smile at someone new today.

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