Relationships on Hold

My son answered the phone one time too many at the dinner table. I’ll fix him……… (published in the Dallas News).

Relational Respect

In 1982 I took my first position out of col- lege with Eli Lilly & Co. Probably the greatest perk for that job was the mobile phone (not cel- lular) they provided us. The handset was mounted on the dash and about the size of a loaf of bread. The box that fueled it was mounted in the trunk and was the size of a small microwave. To get one in Dallas, the wait was 5-7 years, so I drove to Brownwood to get one sooner. The in- stallation only took 9 hours. As you traveled from town to town, you toggled the tower num- bers on the control panel according to a national directory you were given. I was always careful to call ahead to let my date know I’d be a few minutes late. It always impressed and to have a mobile phone when no one else did truly fed my ego.

Flash forward 25 years and my 13 year old sends photos and texts on a phone smaller than a pack of cards. We can’t get through a meal with- out somebody’s phone going off. We sure are in touch with each other. Today, the status is found with the one that can turn the phone off, or go somewhere without it. Kids today (I now offi- cially sound like my father) see nothing wrong with interrupting an in-person conversation with someone to take a call, or respond to a text. Back when Alexander introduced the ringing of the phone to the world, it tapped into a primal need we have to be wanted and valued by another. The urgency in a ringing phone took hold there and has been passed down from generation to generation. An interesting byproduct of this however is that we now claim the urgency of the ring (or vibration) over the actual importance of the call. If you don’t believe me, listen to your neighbor at Starbucks or dinner and pay atten- tion to the inane level of conversation. When did that become urgent or important?

I first thought the cell phone (and email and AIM and etc.) were going to help us improve our relationships. We were going to be able to con- nect better. We were going to be able to show others we value them. What I see however is how we show the ones we are with how much we do not value them when we place our interest in the unknown at the other end of the cell. I have begun to believe that this busy-ness (at the expense of the relationship) is so we do not have to deal with others or ourselves at an inti- mate level. We are, after all, too busy. I have clients, in my office for marriage counseling, who have convinced their spouse that they do not know how to turn off their Blackberry. Please. I have seen them answer the call in my office because it was ringing. At some point in- tention- and what we want to believe about someone else- gets trumped by what their behav- ior indicates. When you are sitting in marriage counseling, and you answer the phone, it is be- cause the call is more important than the spouse. Bet if you drop the PDA in a bucket of water it will turn off (or at least mute the ring).

The way to meet the need to be known by another (and to know them) is through appropriate intimacies (that may in fact be through the use of a cell phone) that focus on how we show the other they are important to us. “Put the phone away at dinner” I tell my kids, “and pay attention to those of us, with you, at the table.” There is a time to “check in” with others but not at the expense of the one you are with in person. Especially when on the counselor’s couch talking about marriage problems around communication.

– Rev. Daniel Gowan