Finding Refuge Offline, in Community

Woman reading

Patrick Denker via Flickr, (CC by 2.0

After I watched the initial news of the attack on Paris and scrolled through some Facebook and Twitter posts, I closed my computer and, carrying my grief and overwhelm, headed to a local writing event. It was a humble affair at an old community center with folding tables and chairs, a small stage, donated beverages, and about 40 writers, their friends, and families. As the rain poured outside, we visited with one another and listened to fellow writers read humorous and poignant pieces on the year’s theme, the number 13 (in honor of Friday the 13th). It was there that I found some solace, some peace from the searing light focused on human failings, suffering, and tragedy, and the tsunami of our response to it.

The pull to respond, to post something on social media, especially in the face of tragedy, is strong, perhaps existential. Yet, a prevailing modern myth, “I post therefore I am,” is just that. And though it appears to pale in comparison to the problems we have to deal with in a world suffering from violence, poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation, how we think, how we communicate, and

how we connect with one another is key to our well-being, to finding ways to cope with the staggering issues before us.

It used to be we regularly discussed news and current events in the doorways of our workplaces, in the produce section of the grocery, at the post office, or while spending time with friends or family. Our face-to-face encounters allow us to see a smile, a grimace, a cloud pass through someone’s eyes, to reach out and touch someone’s forearm, lay a hand on their back. It seems those in-person conversations are migrating, if not dwindling.

If our path to a better, more peaceful world starts at “home,” calming our minds amid a maelstrom of random and repetitive thoughts could be monumental. But more and more distractions—flashing screens and the come-hither of ring tones—disconnect us from our core.

Perhaps that’s why, like many others, I feel torn when, in the wake of tragedy, news reports and social media posts begin to proliferate. While I struggle to take in the enormity of each successive event and its impact, I am pulled off balance by the rapid-fire posts and continuous reports, often long on discourse and replays and short on information and insights.

Our swift responses on social media (or otherwise) can create solidarity, perhaps buoy spirits, but they can also cheapen empathy and compassion.

By reacting out of reflex alone, we might only ride our way along the surface of stories and experiences, jumping to conclusions before facts are gathered, stunting our feelings, and keeping us from recognizing the rich world beneath that delicate skin, the one that separates us from our own and others’ depth and, ultimately, from each other.

Perhaps we need to make more time for “slow communication,” to linger in conversation; listen deeply to one another and to nature; savor a poem or book to reconnect with ourselves and others. Perhaps it’s that slow communication that will allow us to venture below the choppy surface.

For me, it was being at a modest community center, between crafted reflections and meandering conversations, between the 13-year-old violinist who serenaded us, and the toddler who kept her parents busy and the rest of us captivated, that I found myself diving beneath the surface to a calmer depth that helped me venture back out into the unpredictable weather of life. 

Roselle Kovitz, a member of Fetzer’s social media team, is a writer and communication consultant who lives in Seattle.