Last night wasn’t the first time my partner gave me feedback that I seemed disconnected. She explained that I appeared more committed to my phone than my family. After working through my defenses, I conceded that she was right. Despite my justification that the time I spend on my phone fits within the cultural norm, I quickly acknowledged that my dependence to check my notifications and get lost in email and Facebook was perhaps not healthy.
I use my own example to unmask the role of the therapist and reveal myself as an average dude struggling with issues we all face. As a family therapist, the issue of being distracted by our electronic devices is often addressed. Like the feedback from my partner, my clients often disclose frustration that they feel unheard and isolated from each other as our digital wall grows.
Check out this video – Can We Auto-Correct Humanity? (3:27)
The effect this has on our relationships steals empathy and understanding away from each other. Rather than looking towards one another, we look away – or in this case, down. We pretend to listen, but we inadvertently loose information along the way. As multi-tasking as we have been trained to be, it is not easy to update our Instagram, draft an email, and fully digest the details of our partner’s stressful day as she or he battles for our attention.
To accurately convince our partner we are being a good listener means we are practicing empathic listening, which starts with body language and eye contact. In the 2009 epic film Avatar, the common greeting of the Na’vi language is I See You, used to express the physical, emotional, and spiritual experience of meeting someone.
Sound like science fiction? Of course it is, we’re talking about Avatar. However, it is still a direct and healthy way to communicate our intentions. Another way the Na’vi interpret this concept is, I see me through your eyes. In our language, we call this – empathy.
Let’s travel from the fictional planet of Pandora to modern New Zealand. Here you will find the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian’s who introduced us to a powerful greeting known as a hongi. The hongi is a traditional greeting done by pressing one’s nose and forehead between two people upon an encounter. This is far from the traditionally assertive handshake we are taught in the West.
I was reminded how powerful the hongi is after watching a video that went viral of a Haka performed at a Tongan wedding ceremony. The Haka is a traditional war ceremony dance of the Maori people. There is a reason this video went viral as it powerfully concludes with emotional encounters of the hongi embrace.
Whether we take our cues from the fictional 10-foot-blue-skinned-sapient-humanoids of Pandora, or the real-life traditions and beauty of the Maori natives of New Zealand, there are many lessons we can learn from those who truly look within the other.
My intention is be more mindful to reduce the time I get lost in my Apple devices. I want to break down the pixelated wall of distraction between my family and me. I want to practice and hone my connection by turning towards my partner and kids rather than look away.
Perhaps you can join me in this effort. My guess is the first one to notice this change will be the person right in front of you.
Let’s close with how to perform a hongi, so you can practice on your own…