Reality Check: The Power of Presence

We have so many options in how we can communicate. There’s phone, text, video chat, email, interactions on social media sites.…We could even write a letter! One could easily get the impression that we run the risk of too much communication. We’re always in touch (or at least, potentially in touch.) We can hardly get away from each other.
Having these many and varied opportunities to communicate is one of the advantages of happening to live during this time in history. Innovation has made it possible for us to stay in touch. Our loved ones might be miles away, in different time zones, living in very different circumstances than our own. Yet, if we consistently make even a relatively small effort, we can maintain those relationships. We hardly need to see each other in person at all. Maybe we never need to see each other!
Is that true? Is communication over a distance just as effective as a face to face conversation?
The fact that I’ve titled this column, “The Power of Presence” may give away my opinion, do you think?
Don’t get me wrong. Every day, I use at least some of those electronic options. They enable me to check in with people; I can give and receive information, encouragement and support without even leaving my chair if I so choose. I can hear the voice of someone I care for simply by phoning. If I want to check on someone without fear of disturbing or interrupting, I can send an email. In many cases, I can have near-instant connection through text—information, pictures, laughter or tears.
I am tremendously grateful to have access to all of these possibilities.
Yet, there’s a difference in the quality of communication when we are physically together, isn’t there? When we sit with someone and look them in the eye, we receive more information. We know if the other person is focused or distracted. We get a sense of whether we’re seeing true joy or reluctance, clarity or confusion.
Sending a heart emoji is not quite the same as sharing a hug. Showing up on the doorstep with homemade soup is not quite the same as sending an email. Whether it’s shared tears or shared laughter, emotions experienced side by side are a little different than emotions experienced miles apart, coming via that magical device in our hands.
In many situations however, it is a practical impossibility to share physical presence. We can satisfy our needs in different ways. For example, a video chat may work just fine to satisfy one person’s need for love and belonging. But for another, a nice shared sit-down with a cup of tea and a chat is what’s called for.
The pandemic and associated restrictions have left some folks with a lingering fear of getting together. It can be tempting, even comforting, to believe that we can get by just fine without seeing people face to face.
You may have lots of face to face interaction with the people you care about, or you may have just a little. Either way, my suggestion is to treat whatever physical presence you have like the present that it is. This present is easy to take for granted, we may think it’s no big deal. But when we can have it, it’s a gift.
What do you think of the power of presence?

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