Dr. Wall Says

Speak up, listen up, bridge the gap

The lost art of sucking it up!

I came across a pretty interesting blog post last week called: 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making you Miserable , by David Wong (click title to go to the original post). The post addresses why social connections and friendships seem to have decreased in the last 20 years.  I enjoyed it enough that I actually considered re-posting it as is. Unfortunately, from a professional perspective, the manner in which the information was provided might not sit that well with everyone. So instead I figured I would discuss two of the larger points he makes**.

Spend more time around annoying people

shutterstock_98601176Online social networks and interest-specific social groups have allowed us to shield ourselves from others and especially others who irritate or annoy us. As Wong puts it:

“Annoyance is something you build up a tolerance to, like alcohol or a bad smell. The more we’re able to edit the annoyance out of our lives, the less we’re able to handle it.”

How is this is problem?

1) We spend the majority of our early childhood learning about frustration tolerance and emotional regulation.  Through a combination of neurological development and healthy parenting we shift from having huge tantrums any time we are upset, to learning to accept disappointment, tolerate delayed gratification, and manage strong and negative feelings. The end product is usually an adolescent who can deal with disappointment without throwing themselves on the ground or crying uncontrollably (it takes some of us until adulthood to get here, and sadly not everyone graduates). Unfortunately, by not practicing these skills as regularly as we used to, we lose them. Wong argues, and I agree,  that we set ourselves up to feel unduly annoyed, irritated and upset by events and circumstances that in the past we knew how to handle or ignore all together.

TRY THIS:Get out more, interact in the real world, be around people who are different, learn to calm down and take a wider perspective on the world around you when annoying incidents occur.

TRY THIS THIS WEEK: On your lunch break or at the end of the day, instead of settling in front of a screen (handheld or larger) go outside and make eye, or better yet, verbal contact with someone else.

2) By socializing as much as we do online and by surrounding ourselves with people who are too similar to us, we lose critical social skills.  Wong lists the ability to tolerate irritation, but also the ability to move pas annoying qualities, to get to know someone else and appreciate them for what they have to offer. I would add, that a lot of people are also losing the ability to interact comfortably and with ease in real life, face-to-face social situation. The art of small talk, the ability to strike a conversation with a stranger who may or may not share similar interests, the ability to read and interpret body language and non-verbal cues all come from practice. Practice means live interaction with others, others who you do and don’t already know, others with whom you may or may not have commonalities.


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3) Wong doesn’t discuss this point, but by primarily surrounding ourselves with like minded/spoken individuals we limit our opportunities to grow, and severely restrict our pool of prospective friends. One of the potential outcomes of social insulation is that we associate with and remain surrounded by people who share similar opinions. This creates a sort of vacuum, where the perspectives we are exposed to only echo our own views. We can safely remain in a world where everyone is like us, or mostly like us… very Stepford Wives don’t you think?

If we create our very own propaganda machine that spouts views that only really match our own, we rob ourselves of the ability to grow, mature and develop. We also lose the opportunity to meet  and connect with amazing people.

TRY THIS: Go out meet new people, talk, talk about all manners of topics, debate, discuss, investigate, surround yourself with people who are not all like you.

TRY THIS THIS WEEK: Strike-up a conversation (even a superficial one) with someone you know shares a vastly different opinion from yours.

The only problem here, of course, is that we may have lost the ability to tolerate differences and discord. So being around others, and especially others who may be different or disagree with us can become a real challenge.

Go on, get criticized!

criticismWe have become far too touchy, and paradoxically, we don’t get criticized enough. Wong makes a clear distinction between criticism, which is a form of constructive communication, and insulting, which is simply verbal aggression:

“An insult is just someone who hates you making a noise to indicate their hatred. A barking dog. Criticism is someone trying to help you, by telling you something about yourself that you were a little too comfortable not knowing.”

We take each other too seriously. There is no longer any room for discussion or dissent; no real back and forth or exchange of ideas when two people have different opinions. There is only a “you’re-wrong!-NO-you’re-wrong!” kind of interaction that degenerates into outright insults and entrenched points of view.  And since we anticipate this weakness and we expect that level of outrage and anger, we shy away from being open and honest with one another. We don’t dare utter non-supportive or negative feedback,  and this breeds passivity and superficial connections.

Lack of honesty and superficial interactions cheapen our social bonds, and contribute to that sense of isolation. It might seem counterintuitive, but interacting (and sometimes arguing, disagreeing, debating and being annoyed) with people who share different views and beliefs, creates deep relationships. By building our tolerance to criticism, annoyance and irritation, we invite more open and honest interactions, and create deeper bonds.  Practicing this allows us engage discussion on diverse topics and not take everything so personally. At the end of the day there are always others who won’t like you, won’t like what you think or what you say, and disagree with you or your beliefs and that is OKAY.

TRY THIS: Start by practicing your honesty with others you trust, share your real opinions even if they are not in line with everyone else’s, and invite your friends and acquaintaces to do the same. Also realize that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them your enemy or adversary.

TRY THIS THIS WEEK: Get together with a group of friends and start a debate, a real one, face to face, not via text or social media. Enjoy the intellectual exercise of hearing someone else out and try learning something from it.

**David Wong makes several other points about the use of texting and email as poor forms of communication especially with regards to communicating and interpreting emotions. He also talks about how mainstream media’s negative and sensationalistic presentation of events and information create a negativity bias which contributes to our sense of hopelessness for the future and discontent with our current world.  Finally, he addresses the importance of active participation in our social lives, and the worth that is derived from doing and producing rather than simply being passive bystanders in the social world. All three of those topics could merit another two to three paragraphs a piece, which would turn this already long blog post into a small manifesto of sorts, so I will leave those for other potential discussions; but you see that is why  it was a great piece, if you take the time, it gets you thinking. Maybe something worth chatting about with some friends, around a fire pit, a dinner table, or at a park. Who knows, some of them may even disagree with me.

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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.

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