I’ve been back in the US for about six months now and living in my apartment building now for about three of those months. While there are many beautiful things about this country, there is one thing that breaks my heart:
So many of us are closed off and disconnected from others.
I’m sure there are a number of factors that are contributing to it, with my guess that technology, a greater economic divide between people, and our political climate being the biggest culprits. We are a people who will have neck problems at some point because we are hunched over our phones, who are unable to recognize the humanness that exists in each person, and who lash out and immediately distrust someone who doesn’t share the same political, religious and other triggered types of beliefs.
This divide and disconnection has happened very quickly.
Ten years ago, when I moved into my house in Mt. Shasta, CA I met all of my neighbors (5 different houses) the day that I moved in. As soon as my neighbors saw the moving van in the driveway they came over and introduced themselves. I had dinner invitations for an entire week and have maintained friendships with them to this day, even though I no longer live there. When I moved to San Francisco, the people who lived in my 55-unit building were extremely close and we would often get together for cocktail parties and dinners in each other’s apartments. And when I moved to Guatemala a year and a half ago, my physically closest neighbor immediately brought me a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables when he learned that I had moved in.
I don’t see that type of connection today. I have tried connecting with people in my new apartment building (saying hello and making small talk in the elevator, for example) and people seem to be afraid to make eye contact or respond. They are shut off, walled in and doing what they can to feel safe.
Yesterday I went for an interview to be a mentor though a very well known nonprofit organization. The role would work with children and required an understandably rigorous process to make sure that the child would be safe. I went through back ground checks, had to provide references, and take a bunch of online training and pass some exams. Yesterday was the final step of the process: the in-person interview.
I didn’t know what to expect during the 2-hour interview, but anticipated that they would want to talk about my experience working with children and how I would handle different types of situations.
I was led to a plain white room. On one side was a small table with a laptop on it and a standard office chair with arms behind it. I was told to sit in what was a very uncomfortable upholstered chair with no arms and a weird pitch that either meant I was sitting right on the edge of the seat or was slouched back for back support. I was not offered water and there were very few pleasantries exchanged between me and the young woman who was interviewing me.
After some basic questions (where did you go to school, how did you hear of us) and with very little fanfare and absolutely no emotion, the interviewer fired a series of extremely personal questions at me: “Why did your parents get divorced? Who was at fault? Have you ever been physically abused? Have you ever been abused emotionally or mentally? Have you ever been sexually assaulted? Have you been raped? Why did your brother die at such a young age? How did your father die? What was it like losing a parent/brother? How did this make you feel?”
After about 30 minutes I stopped the woman. She had been mechanically asking deeply probing and intrusive questions, typing in my responses without really looking at me. She also wasn’t listening to my responses and was getting information incorrectly, resulting in me having to repeat myself and answer the same question multiple times. While not all of the questions applied to my life and I have worked through each of my life experiences, I started to think about how this interview process would be for someone who was still dealing with the pain of the loss of a child or sibling or parent or who had recently been subjected to some type of trauma. This interview would be a trigger, and the interviewer’s complete disconnection and total lack of empathy toward a person who would be sharing – and possibly re-experiencing – extremely personal information was jarring. The room didn’t even have any Kleenex in it if someone started to cry.
I gave this woman feedback for about 10 minutes about the process and her approach. She looked at me blankly, admitted that a number of people had complained about the chair, and then asked her next question. She was incapable to connecting to the very real human sitting in front of her.
Is this what we are becoming as a human race? Are we no longer able to connect with people, even when they are sitting in front of us? Are we so afraid of our differences, our pain, our beliefs that we cannot look past them to see that we are all in pain, that we all share so many things, and that we are all on this journey together…and that the journey is so much better when we support and care for each other?
A year ago I wrote about a funeral I went to in Guatemala. The sense of community was incredible. I’m not saying that Guatemala is perfect (it isn’t), but the people there seem to have managed to hold onto their ability to connect through pain, through differences and through life’s journey to see the soul in each one of us.
What a different world we would live in if we could each do that consistently and with love! I continue to try. Want to join me?
I noticed the same thing when I got back from 18 months in India. America seemed starkly antiseptic and mechanical. It didn’t seem very… human. I look back at my time in India, all the craziness, sensory overload, poverty, crowds, heat, exhaustion. There was something that made all that disorganized chaos work: Love.
A naive question because I haven’t experienced an interview quite like that… What were they looking for in those interview questions? Is it a good thing or a bad thing if someone has overcome hardships in life?