On Being Present in a Distant Society


I recently read an article for class called “The Disease of Being Busy” written by Omid Safi of Duke University. It focused on the ridiculous amount of stress we put on ourselves to be busy. Safi’s thought-provoking article sparked a much-needed reflection and self-evaluation. He discusses the amount of stress and pressure we put on ourselves, on our peers, on our children to constantly be busy in order to be “successful.” He tells the readers about a greeting common in Muslim cultures (Kayf haal-ik? in Arabic) which translates to “How is your heart doing?” Where we would ask simply “How are you,” they ask about the well-being of your heart. Why don’t we inquire about the state of our hearts and our minds?

We live in a world where we are so caught up in our busy schedules: our e-mails, texts, assignments, deadlines, and everything else that we forget to have conversation. We forget to engage in interactions with others around us. We are often referred to as the “technology generation” or the “wired generation” due to the fact that we grew up surrounded by innovations in technology. When I was young, we had a landline and my father had a phone for work. Now, it’s more common to see a twelve-year-old with an iPhone in hand than it is to sit through a dinner with friends without anyone looking at their phone. That worries me so deeply.

The class that I read this article for was a course in the Social Work school focusing on Community Action and Social Change. Yesterday in class we discussed this reading, sparking a very interesting dialogue about societal pressure, common unavoidable stressors and even our own strengths and weaknesses. When we broke up into small groups to discuss our goals and obstacles, my group focused a lot on restlessness.

In our discussion, all three of us agreed that we live stressful lives. We live in a town that is completely centered around our University. Campus is downtown and downtown is campus. They are so involved with each other that you can rarely ever escape. “When I ask my friends if we can meet for coffee, they tell me that they have one 45-minute slot two weeks from now,” one of my group members shared. We are constantly thinking about our classes, meetings, exams, papers, internships, and jobs. It doesn’t stop. We never find time to rest. One of my classmates said, “Even when I give myself time to rest, I can’t sit still for more than twenty minutes without feeling like I’m wasting my time. I feel like I should be using it for something better.

We spent a great deal of time focusing on the presence of social media in our everyday lives. As someone who is almost constantly scrolling through Twitter, and pretty much always has a tab open to Facebook on my laptop, I am just as guilty of the social media addiction as the rest of society. I’ve noticed that I will go to tell my friends a story and they’ll cut me off saying, “Oh yeah I saw it on Facebook.” We have lost that connection. We have lost the ability to storytell, because posting a photo is easier. We took a minute to think of ways to go about strengthening relationships in our lives. Check our e-mail only once or twice a day. Keep your phone on silent during class time, study time or social time with friends.

We brought up how important we all consider our personal experiences. Without personal interactions, can we really learn new things? We need to make time to share stories, have interactions, make connections, form a community. Because at the end of the day, your phone battery dies and your Wi-Fi can stop working. Sofi says in his article, “Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.” He encourages us to, “put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.” And I encourage you: start those conversations. Make those interactions. Tell your stories. Make new ones. Be present.


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