Real Talk with Rianette Leibowitz

Are we only knocking on social media doors?

When last did you call a friend or have a friend call you? Or are your relationships dependent on digital technology?

It is tough to experience the heart-wrenching loneliness in a connected world. The sad reality is that many people are experiencing loneliness while they are seemingly having so much fun in the social media world.

When we experience hard times, it can become apparent that people don’t visit. Yes, they check-in via Facebook, WhatsApp, and the rest of the myriad of social media applications, either by sharing inspirational messages, jokes or virtual hugs to brighten your day. However, deep down we all long for someone to knock on our front door. Someone who has taken the time to see if what you’re posting online is the reality at home. Someone who cares enough to put their busy schedule aside to look you in the eyes and find out how you’re really doing.

This is the friend who wouldn’t mind that you’re still in your pyjamas, even though it’s early afternoon. This is the friend who understands that the selfie you posted earlier today, doesn’t really reflect what you actually look like at present, because you just didn’t have the strength to get dressed. This is the friend who not only wants to reach out to you, but who needs you too. Remember, while your life changes, friends and family do their utmost best to support you and adjust, but they might not know how to.

We, as a society, give so many  detailed updates about what we are going through, where we are, what we are eating, how we feel, and what we’re experiencing that friends start thinking that they don’t need to call to find out how we are doing, as they already know thanks to social media – they have ‘checked-in’ via Facebook by clicking  on the ‘Like’ button.

The reality is while one person is fighting a physical health battle, someone else is struggling through depression. Another person is experiencing the loss of a loved one, while another is dealing with the heartache of a friend who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. The point is we all need each other! And, don’t forget about the friend who has finally hit their ‘lucky break’ after three years of hard work and perseverance. Friends also need us to celebrate with them.

When I was a little girl, I remember watching my mom as she was having a phone conversation. It was so different from the mobile device conversations my son observes me having. She would hold the phone, while sitting still next to the receiver, which was connected to the source. She was attentive, really involved and so focused on the conversation. She memorised phone numbers and had a handwritten phonebook. Having a telephone conversation was an occasion to look forward to and a moment to connect.

These days, we rarely call. We depend on social media and electronic messages to keep our relationships alive. We take phone calls while driving or cooking dinner, with the phone clinched between a squashed cheek and stressed out shoulder. 

Are we having quality conversations? 

Are we aware of the tone of voice, the heavy pauses and real intention of the call? 

Having a long list of Facebook ‘friends’, hundreds of WhatsApp messages and Instagram followers may create the sense that we matter, that we belong, and that we’re needed and cared for. Yet, the feeling of loneliness doesn’t go away, no matter how many messages we receive.

The digital knock on the door just cannot feed this hunger. We all long for a real personal connection and a voice that shares empathy and compassion. Better yet, we crave eye contact and a hug from a human being. The increase in compassion deficit syndrome, especially amongst the youth, is alarming. We have to be aware of this side effect of an overdose of social media and being bombarded with messages from all platforms.

Digital communication does offer various benefits, and it certainly has made positive impacts on many levels. That said, it seems that it is quite difficult to keep a balance and to  guard against the fear of missing out (FOMO).

We’re expected to be available every minute of the day, however, perhaps it’s time to put on a new pair of glasses to get a better perspective, and to nurture those relationships that matter.

All we are actually doing is going back to basics. It will take some effort, time and, possibly, cost you money to enjoy that coffee together or to make the phone call. However, when it comes to extraordinary relationships, the ones that fulfill your needs and purpose, the value far outweighs the investment you make – bit by bit.

How to stay connected by disconnecting:

  • Call people on their birthdays. You can still wish them blessings on their Facebook profiles, however, they’ll appreciate hearing your voice, and, if possible, seeing you on their special day. 
  • If friends are going through difficult times, call them with the intention to listen or, better yet, go visit. You then can share motivational cell phone messages as extra encouragement once you have better context. 
  • When a friend is experiencing trauma, it can be hard to find the right words to say. In fact, most of the time, we really have to be very careful with the words we use, because even though it is meant well, it could hurt. How about a visit? Yes, actually going to your friend’s house and knocking on the door. Then just sit with them, be there in the stillness by lending your ears and hugs as they process what they’re going through in the safety of your comfort.
  • Schedule face-to-face visits ahead of time (even if it’s once every three months) to ensure it happens and you don’t get to the end of the year, wishing you had a chance to share time together.
  • Be there for each other. A message is not going to help feed your friend’s family if she has just had surgery and can’t prepare dinner. She’ll appreciate it if you run to the shops for her or bring over a cooked meal.
  • Ask for help. By dropping the ‘all is ok’ mask and asking for help, you can receive blessings and solutions. If you prefer to act the role of the perfect Pinterest woman with everything balanced and perfect, you might have to cry alone, and miss the opportunity to learn from others who have gone through the same dark valley. 
  • Accept help from friends. It might be their love language and a way for them to support you. If you don’t accept the help offered, you could be rejecting the blessing sent to you, and miss the opportunity to allow a friend to be there for you in a tangible way.
  • Oh, and those wonderful unexpected calls. Is it not lovely when a friend calls just say hello and reminds you that he/she cares? Take a moment every day to call a friend and thank them for their friendship, and remind them how magnificent they are. 
  • Time to collect mail from your postbox. Can you imagine the surprise and joy when you receive a handwritten letter from a friend? The time that is used to put pen to paper shows that you treasure that extraordinary friend even more.

MEET OUR EXPERT - Rianette Leibowitz

Rianette Leibowitz (@Rianette) is a cyber safety activist for SaveTNet Cyber Safety (@SaveTNet), which aims to save lives by creating awareness of responsible online engagement. Her upcoming book Not For Sale – Relationships of Influence talks about the power of extraordinary relationships of influence.