There was a time when we Irish were famous for our welcomes. The gaelic phrase ‘Céad míle fáilte’ (one hundred thousand welcomes) was a mantra for Irish people. We were good at talking. Storytelling was our forté. Back doors were left open. We sat around the fire and reminisced and imagined. The surprise visitor added magic to the evening. Children would bargain with their parents to stay up longer. They wanted to tune in on the conversation. People knew each other. We visited neighbours when they were in hospital. We welcomed new people to the road. We called on the bereaved to see how they were doing. We kept an eye on the lonely souls of our community. I’m not saying that we have stopped all this but in the last couple of decades there has been a significant decline in real and meaningful social connection. The houses are closer together but the people are further apart.
It’s not uncommon not to know the names of your neighbours. Children of the same age might not play with each other because they wear different school uniforms. When I was a young child we had one television in the house. Two channels. Very little on them. If I wanted to play ball I had to walk a mile and ring a doorbell. Nowadays children can play games online with someone that they don’t know and will never meet. When my mother died a few years ago I got a beautifully worded text message of sympathy from someone who could have walked to my house. I’m not judging that person but texting is not the same as meeting someone. How many families sit at a table anymore? How many families connect with each other? Hear each other’s stories from the day? There’s a television in every room and we’ve hundreds of channels. There are gadgets beside our plates. Texting between the courses. Tweeting as we chew.
We cannot rewind time. Life moves on. The technological advances have many positives. But we need to be very careful that we do not disconnect ourselves from our greatest resource – each other. Peop le need people. We need to keep our friendships alive. We need to visit each other, invite friends around and stay in touch. If we have a long lost friend we should rekindle that friendship. We need to be open to meeting new people and building new friendships. Joining clubs, playing sports and volunteering are all excellent avenues for keeping us ‘social’. Social ties are good for our heath. Psychologists have shown that social ties and increased contact with family and friends are associated with a lower risk of illness. What’s more, a 2010 meta-analysis of 148 studies (Williams, 2011) showed that social connection doesn’t just help us survive health problems but the lack of it causes them. I wonder what would happen if the internet and television signal crashed for a week. I think we’d start talking again!
(c) Shane Martin
If you feel that this article is helpful feel free to share it but please acknowledge the author!