Thursday, October 03, 2013

Releasing The Antibodies

This has gone viral in recent weeks and it's so good I wanted to be part of keeping it that way. It's both funny and profound (and only slightly vulgar).

I own a smart phone, of course, but I agree with Louis C.K. In fact, much of what he says can apply to all screen-based technology and social networking:

I think these things are toxic, especially for kids . . . They don't look at people when they talk to them and they don't build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it's because they're trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, "You're fat," and then they see the kid's face scrunch up and they go, "Oh, that doesn't feel good to make a person do that." But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write, "You're fat," then they just go, "Mmm, that was fun. I like that."

This is what we see all day in preschool, children being "mean," not on purpose, but because they have to try it out, they have to see for themselves the impact of their words and actions. This is probably the single most important reason for children to go to school: to test out their words and actions on a variety of the other human beings, to carry out this vital field research. When we bring screens into the classroom, or worse, when we replace school with screens as happens with online schools, I fear we risk creating a generation of sociopaths, kids who not only don't understand how their words and actions impact others, but actually take pleasure from the power of hurting them. Face-to-face interactions are the building blocks of empathy.

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away: the ability to just sit there. That's being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty -- forever empty. That knowledge that it's all for nothing and that you're alone . . . And sometimes when things clear away, you're not watching anything, you're in your car, and you start going, "Oh no, here it comes. I'm alone." It starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad . . . That's why we text and drive . . . People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don't want to be alone for a second . . . they don't want to be alone for a second because it's so hard.

People get mad at me, some really mad, when I suggest that it isn't a good idea to deal with an irritable child with a screen. They want it to be okay to placate or sooth or numb their kid with TV or an iPad or a smart phone, because they can't stand the crying or the fussing or the whining. Life can be tremendously sad. It can also be frustrating, enraging, frightening, and lonely. Our children need to learn to deal with this and the only way that can happen is through practice, through actually feeling those feelings from beginning to end, to learn to process them. When we shove a screen in front of them, we rob them of that full experience, we rob them of the opportunity to learn to cope, to philosophize, to feel the power of coming out on the other side. We take from them the experience of what it is to truly feel.

Just be sad. Just let the sadness . . . stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck . . . And I let it come, and I just started to feel, "Oh my God," and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You're lucky to live sad moments . . . And then I had happy feelings, because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness . . . The thing is, because we don't want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone . . . You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kind of satisfied with your product, and then you die.

This is not new wisdom Louis C.K. is sharing. In fact, this is the wisdom of the ages, the thing that all humans must learn. This is the wisdom that makes us human, that connects us all. We must all learn to have our feelings and to live our lives without medicating or over-eating or numbing ourselves with screens. We have to be able to stand in the way of it, and let it hit us like a truck. Maybe that's why we keep giving our phones to our fussy kids, because we can't stand the idea of them being hit by that truck, just like we can't stand the idea of them scraping that knee or being singed by that fire or getting rejected by a friend: it hurts like hell. But that's the only way to release the antibodies.

It's wisdom that is as old as humanity.

Let your feelings flourish and get on with your life of doing. ~Lao Tzu (the Tao)

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Unknown said...

Thank you for making sure this video keeps passing along, Tom! I love what you said about not pacifying children with screens when they're upset. When I read that paragraph I instantly thought of all the people I know who use drugs, sex, food, alcohol etc. to make themselves feel better when emotions bubble to the surface. Once upon a time they were children who most likely were not taught how to handle their painful emotions. How much better to teach our children to sit with those feelings, FEEL them, and allow ourselves to pass through them to the other side where happiness lies.

It's been a while since I commented...but I am always reading (and sharing). :)

Melinda said...

This very clearly states the case for cutting out screen time for young kids, and limiting it for older kids. A few years ago, when a friend related a story to me of how her daughter and the daughter's boyfriend would regularly fight, and/or break up via text message, I knew the world was heading down a slippery slope. Thanks for posting - I'm going to share...

Melissa said...

Yes! Instead of parenting (ex. teaching their child how to eat with manners in a restaurant) so many people just hand over iPads and let the kid play (through the entire meal). Technology is important, but more important is human interaction.

KB said...

YES! Thank you so much for this post. I hadn't seen the video, but so appreciate its content.

Amy Hobson said...

I heard a lecture by Judith Prager several years ago, about "Verbal First Aid". It was fascinating and thought provoking, definitely worth looking her up. Irrespective, the take-away, for me, was that when we get hurt (kids and adults) the message that will help us heal is that "the worst is over, our bodies know just what to do to make it better, our bodies are ALREADY making it better and help is on the way". It's not about pacifying things that are painful, but knowing that they are normal, and we are strong enough to work through it (whether we believe that or not). Your post reminded me of Judith's incredible work. It's okay to be hurt. It's okay to be in pain. It's okay to be alone, or even lonely.

Tom, I love you. While I don't ALWAYS agree with you, and as much as it PAINS me to admit it, you make me think almost everyday. ;)