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Living in an Age of Cutoff

13November2012

Rabbi Edwin Friedman once said that we live in an age of cutoff. I have no idea whether it is actually worse than when my great-grandparents were alive. There was cutoff through immigration, whether or not it was emotional cutoff as well, I do not know. Either way, cutoff produces anxiety even though it is meant to relieve anxiety (if only for the moment). Cutoff is not a new thing in family relationships. In fact it goes back to the first patriarchs of Israel. . . Abraham (by virtue of immigration?) and his grandsons Jacob and Esau who parted ways for a long period of time over an issue of a birthrite. It is simply part of our sinful human nature to separate ourselves from one another when anxiety rises too high for us to cope. The question is, has our threshold of coping with relationship anxiety gone down? Is that why we see more instances of cutoff today than ever before?

In our world of cyber communication one would think that we would be more connected than ever before, and in some ways I think that is quite true. However, in many ways the connections are looser, more casual, and certainly not face to face even though one major social media platform has the word “face” in it. There is great opportunity for misunderstanding on media platforms as the nuance of words get lost on a screen that cares nothing for feeling or emotion or shades of meaning intended by a “friend.” If we are not face to face with another we can read all sorts of negative meaning into a post or conversation without the ability to check it out, sort it out or come to a meaningful dialogue. This often results in cutoff. I have seen it with the young people of my congregation who spew (yes I said spew as in vomit) out all of their thoughts with no care for who sees it, how it might sound or make a person feel on the other end, or even if the intended victim actually sees it. Come on people. . . no one is that obtuse as to not catch the meaning of harsh rhetoric when it is aimed squarely at them. Cutoff ensues. Communication has broken down, even though communication seems to have been the primary objective (or was it?). The ultimate cutoff comes when you are defriended (my spellcheck doesn’t even know that word, hmmmm). It’s happened to me with my own family members. Not cool, not cool at all. But we have a pattern of generational cutoff in our family system which sadly seems to be alive and well. (Say a prayer for us, it is no fun.)

I have often thought about why it is easier to cutoff than to hash things out and come to some new understanding about whatever ails our relationships. I think it is based in fear. Do we fear that the other person is going to reject us so we want to beat them to the punch?  We fear that they will devour us with their words so we simply stay silent and refuse to start the conversation? Truly, I believe we often build up the scenario in our minds to be far greater than the actual event if we are courageous enough to come face to face and talk with the one we have offended or who has offended us. Sometimes I think it is simply a matter of self control. What if instead of spewing out all of our hate and anger on Facebook, we simply keep it to ourselves until our raw emotions subside? That would certainly make a difference. The future pain we would cause would never happen. We would not further exacerbate an issue. Why is that so hard for us (answer: because we want to relieve our own anxiety in the moment because our threshold for pain is low).

Perhaps a simply reminder to treat others the way that we want to be treated would suffice? Cliche, I know. . . but better words have probably never been spoken. Love your neighbor as yourself is the way Jesus put it. Here’s my challenge for us today. . . you know that person who makes you a little bit crazy? Walk toward them rather than away from them. Make a conscious effort to move in their direction in peace. Stay in touch, try to bridge the cutoff or avoid it if you can. . . a little bit of in touch is much better than no amount of being in touch!

Make Facebook a Place of Kindness!

Be a blessing today as you go on your way! Put something nice about someone on Facebook instead of vomiting all over the screen. You’ll be much happier, I can guarantee it.

ACL@CCD

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