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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

Socially Asocial

I am coming to the realization that I am socially asocial. Stay with me now.

I’ve been a ‘dump and runner’ pretty much all my life. Yep. That’s me. For the sake of clarity, a ‘dump and runner’ typically shares something of significance and out of fear makes a hasty exit. Maybe it’s something said when it’s conveniently time to leave. Maybe it’s a subtle statement at the end of a conversation that leaves one thinking ‘we just spent an hour together talking about grass treatments when we could’ve been talking about this!’ In essence it’s avoiding the real issue until it’s too late to get into it but the issue is quickly ‘dropped’ and the person then ‘runs’ out the door. Dump and run.

I’ve owned this part of my M.O for quite some time. I’ve taken steps to counteract that and work hard to face things head on. I am working hard at transparency and authenticity. It’s uncomfortable. Downright painful. It takes concentrated effort to short circuit the mental and emotional process to rewrite the program and the outcome. I’m not perfect. I still dump and run. But I’m attentive to it and working on it.

But a conversation yesterday focused a lot on social media and ‘hiding behind the computer’ in dealing with things of significance. Many years ago I told someone it was very easy to hide behind a computer so I made every effort to communicate in person or to pick up the phone. With the advent of social media and texting it becomes increasingly easier to be socially asocial.

Asocial is an adjective and defined as “avoiding social interaction; inconsiderate of or hostile to others.” Asocial is NOT anti-social. Anti-social is an often misused term and refers to being violent or harmful to people or society. Let’s not confuse the two.

In this day and age it’s ‘normal’ to communicate using electronics. I know people who have told me their preferred method of communication is texting over a phone call. I know others who won’t text at all. And others who want an email as the preferable means of communication. In my history of dumping and running one of the changes I made was how I communicate. And sometimes it means having to pick up the phone or – GASP – sitting down face to face with the person to come to a mutual understanding of how to best communicate with each other.

Many will read that and think “Really? A sit down just to communicate about how to communicate?” Yep. You read that right. And here’s why.

What’s one of the biggest sources of relational conflict? Miscommunication. When I would do a roommate mediation meeting to help college students resolve conflict I would often tell them “Perception and intention are two different things. You work off your intention but others respond based on their perception.” In the digital age a LOT gets lost in translation. We all have filters and we don’t know what is going on in the life of the person to whom we just sent a text. We may say ‘what did you do with the keys?’ in a follow up kind of way so we know how to plan and they may hear ‘you lost the keys and I can’t find them and now I’m going to be late for work!’ Question vs accuse. Same sentence viewed through different filters. And those filters greatly influence the effect we let that little interaction have on the rest of our attitude for the day.

I’ve come to peace with texting and do it with select others but it’s not my main source of communication. But it’s beyond texting. It’s emailing. It’s FB messages. It’s even posting on FB. For me I’ve had to draw a line and it is simply this: I am OK with electronic communication if that is what is most convenient for the other party or it’s nothing of much consequence that I am communicating, but when I start to sense conflict or a misunderstanding of ANY sort, I stop and ask to meet face to face. I know some people HATE meeting face to face to discuss things. I used to. Now it’s my preferred method.

And what’s cool is that as people have learned this about me we may embark on an email interaction due to schedule but my preference is shown respect when they ask ‘is that OK to email for this?’ I feel honored and valued by that statement.

There are things that happen in person that can’t happen through a computer: 1) facial expressions – you can read the nonverbals and know what else needs discussed 2) precious time is established to just enjoy each other and communicate what they told me my first year at Kamp: “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.” It’s the same for people. When someone spends their precious and limited quantity of time (literally – we all get the same amount of hours in a day to allot as we feel best) with us we feel special, worthwhile, worthy of their attention and not just ‘another email to send’ on the to do list for the day. 3) value is placed on the relationship and hashing it out. Vocal intonation goes a long way to clearing the air about perceived misconceptions or miscommunications, and hurt feelings can be worked through and reconciliation attained. And that’s a Biblical thing.

The human element is beyond description and value and I fear it’s being lost. And I don’t want to let that happen.

My attention was drawn to how easy it is to fall back on the protection behind a computer screen this past week. I had an incident that caused me a lot of personal stress and anxiety and I had to remove myself from a situation because I did not have a good handle on it. I had a couple people follow up with me and while that follow up happened electronically that was probably a wise choice on their part at that point, not knowing if I needed a little more time to settle down, wanting to express concern while still giving me the space I needed. A couple days passed and I was pondering a response to everyone involved and was going to send a blanket email. Until….

A friend directly challenged me not to. She brought up the ‘drop and run’ history and challenged me to step outside it. I was about to fall into being socially asocial…communicating but doing so out of fear and hiding behind the safety of a computer because I wasn’t sure how they would respond.

I was immediately uncomfortable. And thankful for the feedback, tough to hear as it was. And the more I pondered it the more I realized how true it was. And so I made a decision to follow up with folks in person, preferably face to face and at the very least on the phone.

If I want to be authentic, if I want to live the ragamuffin life of transparency and be mask-less, then I need to challenge myself to do things outside the norm, to value things that show others I value them, and in this instance, it’s giving them time…to discuss and openly share what happened so they can pray. As my friend told me, “It’s not about what they are thinking about you. It’s about what YOU think they are thinking about you.” And what better way to counteract all the lies than to be straight up honest with folks face to face.

Not everyone is at that point. But I have sat in my own living room and found myself as well as other family members constantly scrolling FB so we keep in ‘touch’ with our friends all the while missing the opportunity in front of us to enjoy personal interaction. Personal contact is becoming a lost art. We use email enough for everything else. Must we use it to communicate with someone down the hall in another room? There is enough tearing at our precious limited supply of time in a day…do we really want to communicate to someone we love that others miles, states, countries away are more important for those 2 hours than the person immediately in front of us? I don’t. I LOVE that board games are coming back. What a GREAT way to have personal interaction! Just like eating at the table instead of in front of the tv.

For me, being a dump and runner was all about fear and control. Fear that the response I may receive would not be supportive or would tell me I made a mistake in sharing this with you. Fear of feeling inadequate or stupid or embarrassed. And control because if I dumped and ran I was testing you…will they hear what I’m trying to say, will they show they care by responding, will they chase the rabbit I just put out there? Were they listening? The response determined worthiness of trust in sharing what was going on.

I used to operate like that and it sickens me. I was SO manipulative by doing that and it was so unfair. It sold the other party short. It was indicative of what I believed at the time. It was immature. But now I believe that if I need to tell you something that’s uncomfortable for me it’s MY responsibility to initiate the conversation and do the internal work to get me to that point. I show that I value you when I trust you. And that’s something I want to communicate every day of the week.

I will be pulling back from being socially asocial. I will be communicating more face to face or over the phone, or simply sending an email or text to say ‘can we get together to talk or call?’ and then having the real conversation in person. I don’t want to dump and run. I want to share, stay, and pray. And enjoy fellowship in the process. Because that what Jesus did.

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