Human at the whiteboard

Anne Marie Merline, University Honors Program,
Anne Marie Merline, University Honors Program,

Fort last week’s Collegian column, I wrote about the student essays that I assign for my community class. I reported on the pervasive feelings of social disconnect that came out as a part of those essays.

Last week, I felt it was necessary to take time out to address the student essays with them in class. Although the discussion was about the topic of the course — community — and it nicely fit into last week’s discussion about Robert Putnam’s ideas about social capital, I was more interested in my students’ state of well-being.

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It definitely brought to light something I had not considered. One of my students, Camron, hit the nail on the head. He stated that we live fractured lives that are pulled in many directions that take away from traditional opportunities of community. We had a long discussion about the technology that is a part of our lives and how that takes precedence over real (not virtual) human connections.

As is supposed to be the case with life, once the crux of the situation has been identified, we spent some time trying to figure out how to overcome this fractured feeling. At the end of the discussion, I suggested a four-fold approach, two that involve being alone and two that involve time with others.

I caution you: none of these should be done with electronic devices turned on.

The first part of this strategy is to spend quiet time with yourself. As it came out in conversation, we don’t spend enough alone time just being with ourselves. According to Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., solitude allows you to reboot your brain and unwind, to improve concentration and increase productivity, gives you an opportunity to discover yourself and find your own voice, provides time for you to think deeply, helps you work through problems more effectively, and can enhance the quality of your relationships with others. Don’t be afraid to be alone, embrace time getting to know yourself better.

Secondly, take time out to find a connection with whatever spiritual venue makes sense for you. According to Andrew Newberg, MD., multiple benefits can be derived from prayer and meditation. These benefits include enhanced immune system function, lower heart rate and blood pressure and a reduction in release of harmful stress hormones. As we look for greater meaning in our lives our mental and physical health improves.

Third, sit and talk. Walk away from your laptop, turn off your cell phone and really talk with a friend. Be present with that person. Look them in the eyes and honor their commitment to being there for you too. The is amazing what a positive effect a deep, heart to heart talk will have on the soul. It always makes me feel awesome.

A fourth approach to human connection is touch. A Feb. 22, 2010 New York Times article reports on the positive effects of human touch. A high five, a touch on the shoulder, or a hug are all forms of human touch that all give another person a sense of well-being. Although it seems like we need scientific evidence to believe anything these days, humans have relied on human contact since the beginning of time to survive. If you see someone who seems out of sorts, touch them on the shoulder to let them know that you care. If you need a hug, ask a friend for one. It is amazing how much a hug can help calm me down and bring me back to a place where I can problem solve or enjoy the moment.

Sometimes in order to find community, we have to understand ourselves first. Then we should seek out real human connections. Humans have thrived on these realities for tens of thousands of years, I think they will still work in the days of iOS 7.

Anne Marie Merline is a faculty member in the University Honors Program. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com