A recent study revealed that 18 to 22-year-olds are the loneliest age group today. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this troubling statistic. One, of course, is the prevalent use of technology in our society today. While devices help us connect to people in new and beneficial ways, there are some drawbacks. Empathy, for example, has decreased as technology has increased. One study reported that college students are 40 percent less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, prior to the widespread use of the internet. Screens dull our ability to feel the pain and joy of others and to connect with them emotionally. This presents a threat to deep, committed relationships that are impossible to maintain without continuing empathetic interaction.
While Millennials and Generation Z are especially adept at communicating online, valuable intimacy often gets lost in virtual communications. Quantified Communications reports that an average adult today makes eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time in conversation, but emotional connection is built when eye contact is made during 60 to 70 percent of the conversation. When there is less eye contact, fewer connections are made. Virtual connections, while valuable, cannot replace the emotional connection and sense of well being that occurs with eye contact, touch, and physical presence.
Leaders and managers today often report that young staff lack the relational skills and emotional intelligence to connect with others effectively. In many ways, it is the older generations who must take responsibility for this. When we hand a 5-year-old a device instead of answering their tenth question about giraffes or princesses, we rob them of an opportunity to develop face-to-face communication skills and connect with us in a way that is meaningful to them. When we miss the body language or facial expressions of a 10 or 12-year-old in our life because we are busy checking our social media feed, we lose the opportunity to model good emotional intelligence. When we avoid a conversation with an 18 or 20-year-old in our life because we assume their earbuds mean they don’t want to talk to us, or we fear rejection, we miss an opportunity to demonstrate sincere interest or unconditional love.
Young people today need opportunities to practice healthy relational skills, and they desperately need to see them modeled. Many leaders, mentors, teachers and parents I talk to, however, do not know even where to start in actively engaging the young people in their lives. What I have found, in interacting regularly with 5 to 25-year-olds, is that there is great power in a good question and active listening. I have yet to encounter a young person who did not respond positively to someone sincerely asking about their perspectives and concerns. True, there might be an eye roll or two at first, but when they see you persist in your interest in them, despite their eye roll, trust and respect begin to develop.
So, what does a good question entail? First of all, it must be open-ended. If it allows the young person to respond with a simple “yes,” “no,” “good” or “bad,” a grunt or sigh, it is not a good question. Instead, it should require some thoughtfulness. Instead of asking, “Did you have a good day at school?” try something like “What was the best part of your day at school?” The response to a good question should give you some insight into the young person’s life and provide an opportunity for a follow up question. For example, if they respond that the best part of their day was chatting with a friend, you could follow up with a question like, “Tell me about your friend? How did you meet?” A good question can thus communicate that you care about what they care about. Check out some other great sample questions here.
Good questions are one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate interest, gain empathy, and develop deep connections. As a result, they are a critical tool for all of us as we interact in a society that is increasingly distracted and busy. Make it a goal to practice asking good questions and taking the time to listen actively to the responses.
The oldest members of Generation Z (b. 1996-2012) are now in college and beginning to enter the workforce. While they share some of the values and views of Millennials, they are also distinct in many ways. Gen Z grew up in a post-9/11 world and experienced an economic recession. They watched parents, aunts, and uncles lose jobs. They watched older siblings and cousins drowning in college debt as they struggled to start their careers. Terrorist attacks, school shootings, and deep social divides have played out on the devices they carry in their pockets, or place under their pillows, making the troubles of the world very real and ever present in their lives. They have grown up in a culture of fear. Nonetheless, this generational cohort has some incredible strengths that are already beginning to reveal themselves.
Self-Learners. Gen Z has unprecedented access to information. Unlike any generation before them, they can engage the broader world at an early age. My daughters frequently ask questions like, “What sound does a giraffe make?” knowing that within a few seconds we can find a video of a giraffe making sounds. I have a friend whose teenage daughter taught herself to play violin by watching Youtube videos. Gen Z possesses a healthy sense of curiosity and they have the tools to pursue their interests and find information quickly. One result of this is the elimination of natural opportunities for mentoring. Instead of asking a teacher, parent, or coach for information, providing an opportunity for an intergenerational conversation, they often go to their devices to find answers. As a result, we must find ways to be more intentional as we seek to engage them in relationships.
Entrepreneurial. Because of the vast technological tools at their fingertips, Gen Z feels empowered to act independently. They do not have to wait for someone to give them an opportunity to make money, learn, create, or connect. They can record videos, create music, start businesses, and connect with people around the world with the resources on their devices. As a result, they are incredibly entrepreneurial. In fact, 72% of high school students want to start their own business someday. Colleges and businesses seeking to recruit Gen Z need to be aware of this and prepare to foster this entrepreneurial approach to learning and work. Already 34% of U.S. workers are freelancers and the gig economy shows signs of continued growth. Gen Z fits firmly into this trend. We may need to rethink how we are educating a new generation of workers who see themselves as entrepreneurs.
Pragmatic. Gen Z is proving to be practical and self-focused in their views of the future. One benefit of this is that they see the need for long-term goals and are often willing to sacrifice in the moment for future security. In fact, recent studies show that Gen Z has more self-control than kids did decades ago. While financial security is the goal of many young people today, for those committed to something greater than themselves, their pragmatic perspective on the world can help them make sound decisions and persevere beyond the challenges of the moment.
While technology addiction, rising rates of depression and mental illness, and fear can threaten the potential of Gen Z, there is great reason to hope. This new cohort brings perspectives and skills well-suited for the world in which they will live and lead. They desperately need mentors, teachers, and leaders who can see their strengths, and who are committed to helping them develop those skills. They need encouragement and wisdom as they learn to thrive!
The following is a guest post by Josiah Kennealy. Visit the Facebook page to learn more about his book Debtless and find more great tips.
Over the past five years, I have met with many college students, young couples and young adults who are drowning in debt and struggling financially because of student loans. I recently completed my master’s degree — graduating debt-free — and focused my capstone project on this topic. My colleagues and I surveyed 850 college students from more than 200 different colleges and universities in over 40 states. We published the findings in the book Debtless.
Not surprisingly, the results showed that college debt is a huge problem. We found that over 39 percent of current college students have no idea how much they owe in student loans. Based on our research, current students have taken on an average of $26,659 in debt — and haven’t graduated yet! Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed said no one informed them about alternatives to student loans.
I want to share with you three tips that will help you pay for college, take on less debt, and pursue your dreams with passion!
College is expensive. Every situation is different because each student has a different desire of what his or her future dreams hold. In addition, every family has a different financial situation based on jobs, income level, and life events.
Research and due diligence is your job. I recommend that students in high school visit their school’s office to set up a meeting with their school counselor. One you’ve done that, you want to talk to the admissions offices of every school you’re applying for. This can help you figure out things like FAFSA, which is a form family’s fill out to apply for financial aid in the form of grants and government helps.
Similar to researching the costs of different college and university options and learning what forms of financial aid are available is applying for outside scholarships. What scholarships do you qualify for? There are a few free websites I recommend: fastweb is one of the best. (You shouldn’t have to pay for any of them). I recently talked with a high school principle who has a community fund with $100,000 awarded in scholarships annually, but some years not all of it is given out because students don’t apply for it!
Lastly, could you work while you’re in school? I worked at least 25 hours per week throughout college during the school year and more over summer break. This allowed me to pay as I went for school.
Looking back, one of the scholarships I’m most thankful I applied for was actually in my last semester of undergrad. I applied for a fully funded summer study abroad trip to Israel/The Holy Land. To take this trip out of pocket would have been in the neighborhood of $10,000 and also gave me graduate studies credits. I was awarded the trip and it was life changing for me to walk where Jesus walked and has been invaluable to me as a pastor in ministry. It never hurts to apply!
What are some ways you could increase the amount of money you have?
This is coming up with your own game plan and road map to success. Again, every student’s experience is going to be different and every family of origin is different to begin with. If you find yourself particularly overwhelmed or stressed out, just know you can do it!
For some people, it makes sense to earn college credit while they are in high school still through AP courses, PSEO, IB and other college in the school programs.
Another opportunity to think about is spending your first year or two at a community college and later transferring to a four—year public or private university. This is a way you can cut the cost overall, and generally community college students can live at home in addition to work. This can be a tri-fecta! Lower cost to classes, live at home rent free, and work to pay bills and save towards the future.
I always remind families that if you serve in the military for four years, the GI Bill covers the cost of courses and living expenses for your undergraduate degree.
à My favorite tip to offer about paying for college is to buy your textbooks from Amazon instead of the bookstore on campus! My first year, I spent around $600 both semesters to buy brand new books on campus. My last few years, I discovered I could buy the same books used on Amazon for a fraction of the cost. This saved me at least $400 per semester.
What are some ways you could cut the cost?
If you are a first generation college student, (and 25% of students are in 2018) one of the things I would say to you is you can do it and you’re not alone. Mentors, youth pastors, parents, teachers, and counselors are people you can let in on the process. Work together! Maybe this process begins for you by calling a cousin or friend who’s a current college student and asking them about their experience.
Chris Brown (financial expert and nationally syndicated radio show host) recently said that 80% of parents expect their child to graduate with student loans. I’m here to tell you that graduating debt free is completely possible and now that you’re on this journey, graduating with less debt is extremely likely!
My greatest takeaway from grad school was learning how to build a great team. This applies to leading a ministry of volunteers, or leading a large company filled with workers. It also applies to you as you go into the next season of life. Build a dream-team that has mentors, teachers, advisors, coaches and family members who can help you get to where you want to go.
I wrote the book Debtless for you and our team created a 12-week YouTube video series with more tips on how to pay for college as well! You can add me to your team of people cheering you on, believing that you can do it and passing along helpful information in the process. My heartbeat and passion is to add value to the lives of young people in America and equipping them with the resources necessary to succeed!
In my situation, I wanted to graduate with no debt. I knew it would be a challenge. One of the things my parents offered to team up with me was to live at home for free. I was able to commute back and forth to the university I went to since my parents lived less than 15 miles away. As an extrovert, this was a major sacrifice, but as I brainstormed creative ways to cut costs, this made a lot of sense and saved a ton of money for me.
When you are willing to sacrifice to minimize the total cost and expense, work to raise your income, and involve other people in the process you are on the path to success!
The following is a guest post by Bill Mann, who writes and speaks on inter-generational mentoring.
When people approach me about mentoring, I usually tell them that one of the key ingredients to being a successful mentor is to put your pride in your back pocket and take a large dose of humility. Just like a vitamin, humility goes a long way to forge a relationship with the next generation.
Every relationship has at least four levels of communication. These levels are separate and usually are done sequentially. The levels are:
Why is this important? Well, one of the highest values of the next generation is that they crave authenticity. They want to interact with people who are real with them and willing to share their lives – both the good and the bad. That, of course, requires mentors to develop an ability to be transparent.
Regi Campbell writes a weekly blog for Radical Mentoring. In a recent blog, he observed that the intensity of young people increases when your stories are about failure you have experienced. They don’t take well to what he calls “victory laps” which often looks like self-promotion than being authentic. I agree.
Regi ascribes the power of “failure stories” to the following (I have added one at the end):
The challenge is straightforward. Mentors need to be willing to express humility and vulnerability to their mentees. They want to know that you messed up, and that you learned from your mistakes. They will make their own mistakes, but possibly not the same ones you did. In addition, you will develop an ability to communicate at a deeper level.
As a sophomore in college, I served as a student leader. Our team was responsible for providing peer mentoring, planning student programs, and helping with various campus activities. We were volunteers, with leadership responsibilities piled on top of classes, homework, and part-time jobs. It was important for us to stay focused on the goal. One of our team leaders often encouraged us by saying, “It’s all about the one!” It didn’t matter if attendance at an event was low, if one lonely student came and found community and new friends, it was worth it. If we had a test looming the next day, but a student struggling with depression showed up at our door, giving up some sleep and taking time to encourage her was meaningful. That slogan helped keep us focused on how critical investing in just one person can be!
Our culture is obsessed with numbers as indicators of success. We measure success as the amount in the budget; the number of customers, guests, sales or conversions; or the size of our facilities. While there are great reasons for this, it can also be a distraction. I am often asked how to create a successful leadership development or ministry program for youth and young adults. Mass methods are only marginally effective. The best way to engage with and develop a young person is one-on-one, or in small teams and communities. Millennials and Generation Z have access to information unlike any other generation in the history of the world. They don’t need another great program; they need to process. Indeed, the number one predictor of a young person retaining their faith is a meaningful relationship with an older believer. Trusted mentors and friends and safe spaces in the frenzied worlds of youth today can provide opportunities for the development of strong values and convictions.
I call this period that we are in the “season of a remnant.” Regardless of your setting, it is unlikely that we will accomplish significant change or impact in young lives and perspectives through large group trainings, conferences, or classes. Relationships, community and meaningful conversation are where the most formative experiences occur. Wondering why a young people has a specific political view? Engage them in a conversation (not a lecture!) about it. Wanting to instill an essential character trait or leadership quality in a young mentee? Model it for them, inviting them to share in a meaningful leadership experience. Hoping to share faith or truth with a generation that desperately needs it? Begin with “the one” or a few…a remnant.
Will and Ariel Durant, Pulitzer-prize winning historians, in discussing the inevitable decline of civilizations, write the following: “Nations die. Old regions grow arid, or suffer other change. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts, and moves on, taking his memories with him.” I often reflect on this statement and think about my students and my children, their children and grandchildren. As the civilization we belong to undergoes change, what tools and memories do we want young people to possess as they move on to a new or changed civilization? What tools do we want to ensure they carry with them into an uncertain future? There will always be a resilient remnant and equipping them means we sometimes have to remain focused on “the one!”
I have taught leadership courses for many years. It always amazes me to read student essays on who has greatly influenced them. Most of the time, they write about family or friends. These influential people are seldom rich, famous, or powerful. They sometimes live far away or are seen infrequently. To read students’ writing about grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends who have greatly impacted them, I am reminded of the importance of our relationships with family and friends. The holidays is a time of the year when we often see people who live far away or are busy other times of the year. As a result, interactions during Christmas gatherings can be awkward, forced or uncomfortable at times. If there is dysfunction or hurt in the family, it makes it even more difficult to have meaningful conversations. Nonetheless, these events provide invaluable opportunities to mentor and encourage. Our attitudes, behaviors, and responses influence and communicate regardless of our intent, especially to kids, youth, and young adults in our family circles. So, as we begin this season of celebration, here are a few tips to remember as we seek meaningful interactions this Christmas.
The following is a guest post by Rebecca Hopkins, an American writer, wife to a relief pilot, member of a cross cultural team, and mama to three kids—while living in beautiful, friendly Indonesia.
“We have this whole sky to ourselves.”
My husband, Brad, wasn’t exaggerating. He was flying a small Cessna 185 float plane in the central Borneo jungle, landing on winding rivers, dodging canoes and gold miners. On that day, he was the only pilot out there, answering medical evacuation calls from remote Indonesian villages, carrying passengers in just one hour to save them a journey that would take hours, even days on rivers and jungle roads.
“It’s pretty cool where a float plane will take you, isn’t it?” he said.
We know, however, that this magic of connecting communities to important resources happens because that one float plane is just one part of a team. That team includes the flight followers in the office, the airstrip agents in the villages that weigh passengers, the donors in other countries, our headquarters that does so much, and other pilots and staff members who’ve invested many years into this work.
And for our team to be successful in this high-stakes job of relief aviation, we need trust.
Trust should be built, not assumed
Sometimes trust is assumed, based on a shared foundation of beliefs, goals and purpose. That’s a good start. But having a growth mindset with trust—that it’s built, not only assumed—creates both a stronger trust and gives a way to deal with broken trust.
“Team leaders and members will often want their teams to quickly pour their trust into their latest idea or plan,” writes
“The Teaming Church” author Robert C. Crosby. “But it is something that is built and added to with every task accomplished, every promise kept and every concern addressed.”
Younger generations less likely to trust
This need to build trust seems more urgent now than ever. A 2014 Pew Center survey shows that younger generations are less likely to trust than their older counterparts.
To this question: “Generally, speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people,” 19 percent of Millennials chose trust. Thirty-one percent of Gen Xers were willing to trust, compared to 40 percent of Boomers.
Advice on building trust
That caution to trust can provide an opportunity to utilize good building blocks of trust.
Accountability, vulnerability, forgiveness, grace, open dialogue and prayer are all important, according to Erik Plantenga in a blog post titled “The Trust Factor in Multicultural Teams.”
David Sedlacek in Christianity Today’s “Teams in Missions: Are they worth It?” lists questions teams can ask each other: Mission – Why are we a team? Goals – What will we do? Roles – What do my teammates and I do? Communication – How do we relate to each other? Decision-Making – How do we make decisions? Conflict – How do we handle conflict?”
Another simple one that both leaders and staff members can ask before they act: Is this (policy, decision, etc.) building trust or breaking down trust?
Different cultures, genders and generations require different trust-building blocks
But the answers themselves aren’t always straightforward and take team discussion to recognize different needs.
“Cultural differences play a key role in the creation of trust, since trust is built in different ways, and means different things around the world,” write Ira Asherman, John W. Bing, Ed. D and Lionel Laroche, Ph.D., P.E. for global consulting firm ITAP international in their article, “Building Trust Across Cultural Boundaries.”
When trust is broken
“In our 20-plus years of research, we’ve discovered that 90 percent of the behaviors that break trust are unintentional and subtle,” write Dennis and Michelle Reina, co-founders of Reina, A Trust-Building Consultancy that has worked for companies like Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. Army and Harvard. “We’ve seen that these trust-breaking behaviors occur on a daily basis and are committed by everyone, at every level of responsibility, and within every form of professional relationship. While people know they need trust in their workplaces, most still aren’t sure how to restore trust once it’s been lost.”
In a Christian organizational context, offering forgiveness might be a response to broken trust. While this is an important piece of moving away from bitterness, it doesn’t, alone, rebuild trust.
The Reinas list such steps as “Observe and acknowledge what happened.” “Allow feelings to surface.” “Get and give support.” “Take responsibility,” in addition to forgiveness, and finally, “letting go and moving on” armed with deeper knowledge and growth resulting from the incident.
Vulnerable situations require built trust
A 2007 Pew report supports that “people who feel vulnerable or disadvantaged, for whatever reason, tend to find it riskier to trust because they’re less well-fortified to deal with the consequences of misplaced trust.” Organizations can look at times when its members or users are feeling vulnerable to make sure the policies in place build trust. How are transitions handled? How are health concerns dealt with? How are times of changing leadership addressed in a trust-building fashion?
Some of Brad’s passengers could easily fall into the category of “vulnerable or disadvantaged” as they’re strapped to a stretcher, or step into that plane carrying a sick child. They’re entering both a float plane…and trust that has been built over time, through intentional decisions by lots of people. And in many cases, lives are saved.
I think you could say, it’s pretty cool where trust—and not just float planes—can take you.
Given the emphasis on productivity in our culture, saying we need to be unproductive may sound counter intuitive. Some of the greatest tips for success in life do! I recently discovered again the significance of seemingly unproductive time. As a mommy of twin preschoolers, who also stays busy speaking, teaching and writing, I usually find myself multi-tasking excessively. I strategically schedule time to write during naps, squeezing in a load of laundry while taking a break to refill my coffee. Talking on the phone while walking the trails by our house allows me to have a quick workout, get some fresh air and catch up with a friend or colleague all at the same time! I have even left projects out on the table to work on should the girls wake up in the middle of the night! This pace often leaves me mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Recently, I read an article discussing Google’s 80/20 concept, where employees are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their work hours doing whatever they want. Why would a major company propse such a policy? They know the benefits of rest, daydreaming and amusement. Down time can increase problem-solving, creativity, concentration and well-being. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey’s seventh habit is that of balanced self-renewal, or what he calls “sharpening the saw.” He emphasizes intentionally renewing our physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional wellbeing. Covey explains, “This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life—investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute…we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw.” While such a statement may sound selfish, it rings true. An exhausted, overworked, distracted individual has little to offer to anyone in his or her life.
While on a walk with my husband, daughters and dog, we came to a small lake. While my husband scratched the dog and talked to the girls, I walked out to the end of a dock and sat down. The rustling of the leaves tickled my ears and the peacefulness of the water captured my gaze. I felt my body begin to relax and happy memories of summers fishing with my grandparents flooded my mind, bringing a smile to my face. My husband asked if I wanted to continue walking. I answered, “No, I am just going to sit here!” I needed to capture that moment! In this season of life, I may not be able to spend 20 percent of my time daydreaming or even engage in regular activities to “sharpen my saw,” but I can take 7 ½ minutes to enjoy the stillness of the sun reflecting on the water before the kids start to fuss, or read three pages from my favorite book before drifting off to sleep at night. As we enjoy the busyness of the upcoming holiday season, be sure to pause and soak up some moments of peace and reflection. These moments may prove to be the most productive in the day!
The following is a guest post by Bill Mann, who writes and speaks on inter-generational mentoring
The next generation (Generation Z, born 1995-2010) are those who have grown up with devices, such as a cell phone or an iPad, readily available. The first are now going to college, while the youngest are in elementary school.
Recently, some of the potential negative impacts of the digital world have been emerging. For those of us who mentor, teach or parent Generation Z, it is critical that we understand these dangers. There are now eight new mental illnesses resulting from internet use. According to Evin Dashevsky, writing in PC World, these disorders, which range from the “benign to destructive,” have just been recognized recently and didn’t even exist in the middle 1990s.
Some of these are variations of older disorders. While some may be familiar with FOMO, one of these new disorders is called “Nomophobia” which is a fear of not having access to your mobile phone (either it crashed, you lost power, or it was lost or stolen). The condition can be severe, as the PC World magazine article notes: “[T]he condition has found its way into the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and has prompted a dedicated Nomophobia treatment program at Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, California.”
Another condition is called Cybersickness which results in physical symptoms like nausea and dizziness caused by interacting with things like virtual reality. The next is called “Facebook Depression,” which may be descriptive enough. It comes from the despair that accompanies one watching everyone else have more fun and lead more successful lives than yours.
The next two are described as addictions: “Internet Addiction Disorder” and “Online Gaming Disorder.” The former is descriptive of such an extraordinary use of the internet that it interferes with your daily life. The latter is limited to an unhealthy need to be online playing multiplayer games.
Finally, with the internet, information not otherwise available about medicine is now readily available leading to users having something called “Cyberchondria,” where one is led to believe they have diseases that they found online. Sites like WebMD give enormous amounts of information, resulting in people who may have a simple headache becoming concerned that it might be a brain tumor.
The last is one that I am most concerned about based on what I’ve been learning recently. It’s called the “Google Effect.” It describes how our brains are declining in the ability to retain facts or information because it can be found online via search engines like Google or Bing.
As a result, our brains are changed and we no longer have the ability to retain information as much as prior generations. The number of searches on Google has grown from 9,800 in 1998 to 4.7 trillion today. Since we now have nearly all the information ever created by civilization at our fingertips, our brain functions may be altering how and what we retain. In effect, people have started using Google instead of their brains to store information. Unfortunately, as one writer notes, our brains use information stored in our brains in order to “facilitate critical thinking.”
In his book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, author Dr. Nicholas Kardaras likens the addictive effect on young children as being the same as Digital Heroin. He has observed reactions of young children going through signs of withdrawal when denied the access to digital devices, including tantrums as if they were digital junkies.
Heady stuff, and some of it scary since these disorders are new, or at least variations of other disorders. For mentors, it means that we are likely to encounter someone in the next generation who has more than just a mild interaction with the internet or the digital world. As Marvin Brubacher suggests, if that interaction results in addictive behavior, a mentor needs to be able to identify it and help them through it, or at least direct them to counseling.
To mentor the next generation, one needs to understand them. Now, that understanding includes learning about emotional or addictive behaviors which are novel and new. Ryan Terrance put it this way: “Everything in moderation, and there's a perfect balance in this life if we can find it.” Our challenge as mentors and parents is to help our mentees navigate a safe route in the digital world and urge moderation and wisdom in their use of technology.
Most of us are interested in ways to decrease stress, improve sleep, and stimulate brain growth and memory. And yet, research shows that silence does all of this and more. In a world where we carry our favorite music in our back pocket; engage in long-distance conversations anywhere, anytime; and listen to podcasts, audio books or funny Youtube videos on demand, silence is often elusive.
A recent study indicates that not only is silence difficult to find, but we actively avoid it. In an experiment where individuals were given the choice of sitting in silence with their thoughts, or inflicting an electrical shock upon themselves, the results were surprising. Even though participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked, 67% of the men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than sit quietly and think for 15 minutes.
While it can be difficult to carve out or choose time for silence, solitude and reflection, there are a few key reasons for us as leaders to do so:
1. Healthy Relationships
Relationships are critical to our health and wellbeing. In today’s busy, digitally-driven world, our longing for deep relationships is greater than ever. Often we substitute noise and a sense of connectedness for true relationships. Writer Johnathan Franzen describes that “our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love.” Ironically, it is often silence and solitude that allow us the understanding and peace to engage in deep, caring, healthy relationships more regularly. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, explains: “The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places, and he alone truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God.”
2. Effective Leadership
Leaders today are confronting increasingly complex problems in ever-changing environments. More than ever, we need time and space to clear the clutter from our minds and focus on the challenges we confront. Author and speaker, Sarah Ban Breathnach, explains, “Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most: quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what's working and what's not, so that we can make changes for the better.” Kate Murphy, in her article, No Time to Think says, “You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.” I would add that sometimes the answers are whispered in our heart. When we fail to listen, in silence and solitude, we may miss the best answers to issues we are facing.
3. Identity and Purpose
In a study by anthropologist Emily Martin, an eleven-year-old girl from a broken home, who bounces between three households, explains that in each of these households the rules are different and so is she. Her identity, like that of many of us today, is defined by an external context. This translates easily into the virtual world, where our identities can be fluid and adaptable. Unfortunately, this also makes us vulnerable to confusion, depression, and a lack of confidence. Silence and reflection is the space where we can listen to our own heart and identify our identity and purpose. Carl Sandburg describes this beautifully when he says the following: “A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . It is necessary now and then to go away and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?' If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one's time—the stuff of life.”
As leaders, may we prioritize silence and reflection, benefiting from the rest and understanding that come from these disciplines. More importantly, may we model these critical practices for those younger than us who are in danger of living lives full of noise and distraction, without understanding the beauty and healing of silence and solitude.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!