I have had a great deal of conversation with my daughter in recent days about communication among her generation. As is common in parent-child relationships, I have a tendency to talk about “the good old days” and she wants to tell me how things are much better now because of the advancement of technology. I share how I am fearful about the decline of face to face conversation and I am quite perplexed with how this generation can use punctuation, capital letters and emojis to create text messages that are able to be inferred clearly by the recipient. Somehow they can read emotion and pick up on tone and sarcasm in only a sentence or two. It truly is a language all their own and as a parent and “older” person, I am left scratching my head sometimes. She tells me it just makes them bi-lingual, which I guess is not too far of a stretch, because I definitely can't speak the language very well.
No matter which side of this debate you fall on, I think we can agree that we are living in times where communication is rapidly changing and relationships are no longer established or maintained in the same ways they once were. Speaking of the good old days, my husband and I had a long distance relationship for almost two years when I was my daughter's age. We relied on snail mail letters , care packages and long distance phone calls. I spent many nights with the long black curly phone cord stretched out into the hallway of my dorm in hopes of having some privacy to talk to him late at night when the rates were cheaper. Even so, we still encountered phone bills that were often hundreds of dollars. If we were able to talk once a day for fifteen minutes it was a great day! Now, although we have to pay astronomical prices for cell phones we can't live without, we all have access to constant communication through text messages, face time, Snap Chat, Instagram, Twitter and who knows what new app they’re probably discovering in this very moment. So knowing that communication is key in establishing and maintaining relationships, with more communication tools than ever before it would stand to reason that our relationships should be much easier to form and deeper than ever, but I don't think that is the case at all.
One of my very favorite children’s books is Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud. The idea behind the story is that everyone has an invisible bucket we carry with us each day to hold the “good stuff” others pour into our lives. Through her simple story she encourages children to be “bucket fillers” by being kind to others and she discourages unkind words or actions by describing those as “bucket dippers”. I love this children’s book so much that I bought two copies to place in the Christmas stockings of my adult children last year. In my opinion, we are never too young or too old to be reminded to be bucket fillers and words are one of the most powerful tools we have to literally make or break someone’s day. By filling the buckets of others, our bucket is filled too! But when we try to steal from the bucket of others, our bucket spills out and is left empty. It is such a simple, but powerful illustration of the need we all have for human communication and encouraging interaction.
I would argue that by constantly communicating through a screen, we are losing the emotion that is so important in human relationships and maybe our buckets are left half full because of it. There is no substitute for laughing or crying or hugging someone and typing "LOL" or including a crying face emoji may communicate the emotion, but it can never take its place. As nice as it is to receive encouraging text messages or well wishes, the effect of actually hearing someone say those things results in a much deeper connection and stronger emotional reaction. I believe much of the unhappiness and loneliness that is rapidly rising in recent days is a direct result of the absence of genuine, face to face interaction and isolation. We were created for it and cannot live without it.
Do not misunderstand, there is definitely nothing wrong with sending an encouraging text or a funny GIF to communicate to a friend that you are thinking of them. I love getting those kinds of texts! But, this week, I am challenging you, along with myself, to focus on being a "bucket filler" old school style. Yes, it takes more time and more energy but I would like to argue that because it does, it simply means more. Consider scheduling time to have coffee with a friend just to catch up. Call a relative you haven't talked to in a long time just to hear her his or her voice. Plan a technology free date with your spouse or significant other that centers around actually communicating with each other. Maybe even speak a compliment to a stranger in the grocery store or at the gym when you notice something admirable about them. Get creative and see if you feel a little more content after spending real time with someone you care about. It is my hope that you'll fill your own bucket to overflowing by pouring in to the bucket of someone else. Words have power......let's use them well.
“Say only what helps, each word a gift.” Ephesians 4:29 (Message translation)