[Note: This story was first published in CLARITY (15 August 2019). It is published here with permission.]

The scene is familiar: It’s Sunday evening and a family of four come into a restaurant for dinner. The waitress shows them to a table and before they even sit down, all four of them – father, mother, son and daughter – place their phones on the table. Orders are placed and while waiting for the food to arrive, they are glued to their phones.

Maybe, there’ll be some respite when the food arrives. Maybe, they’ll put away their phones for a while. Maybe, they’ll even look at each other for a moment.

When the plates of fried rice, fried vegetables and steamed fish are placed in front of them, all four people adjust their positions. Having to use their hands for something other than holding their electronic gadgets, they scramble to prop their phones against glasses. Soon, they’re entertained by watching the programme on their phones uninterrupted as they shove food into their mouths. Once they finish, the father takes a 30-second break to pay the bill and the family leaves the restaurant.

This complete disconnect with life is echoed by Dr. Swagata Roy during a recent panel discussion at 7C Life RealiZation Centre called ‘Cyberworld’s Psychological Impact: The Unknown Reality’. This educator and life observer recounts a story of giving an assignment to her students to write three words about what the internet means to them. Of all the answers, the one that stirkes her as odd is when one young man wrote, ‘Disconnect. Disconnect. Disconnect.’ Worried about him, she guessed that he must have been so bothered by what happened on Facebook. “When I spoke with him,” she elaborates, “he explained, ‘I have contacts, but we’re not connected.’”

This rather bleak statement falls squarely into a story that HH SwamiGuru told us a few weeks ago. It is a conversation between a journalist and Swami Vivekananda. Here is a paraphrased version of this story.

A journalist asked the monk, “Sir, in your last lecture, you told us about jogajog (contact) and sanjog (connection). It’s really confusing. Can you please elaborate on this?”

The monk smiled and replied with a question: “Are you from New York?”

“Yes,” said the journalist.

“Who is at home?”

Although he felt that the monk was avoiding answering his question, he still said, “Mother has expired. Father is there. Three brothers and one sister. All married.”

“Do you talk to your father?”

Frowning, the journalist stared at the monk.

The persistent monk then asked, “When did you talk to him last?”

Pursing his lips, the journalist said, “Perhaps, a month ago.”

“Do your brothers and sisters meet often? When did you last meet as a family?”

Sighing, the journalist said, “Christmas. Two years ago.”

“How many days did you all stay together? How long did you spend with your father, just sitting beside him? Did you have your meals together? Did you ask how your father was? Did you ask him how he passed his days after his mother’s death?”

Tears began to flow from the journalist’s eyes.

The monk held the hand of the journalist and said, “Don’t be embarrassed, upset or sad. I am sorry if I have hurt you unknowingly. But this is basically the answer to your question about contact and connection. You have contact with your father, but you don’t have a connection with him. You are not connected to him. Connection is between heart and heart. Sitting together, sharing meals and caring for each other, touching, shaking hands, having eye contact, spending some time together.”

The journalist wiped his tears away and said, “Thanks for teaching me a fine and unforgettable lesson.”

Certainly, this story shows how important it is to go beyond having someone as a ‘contact’ in your world. You need to have that connection with other human beings. Are these two enough, though, for the entire relationship to be a meaningful one? Should there be something more, especially within the family. What is this ‘something more’? Can there be more? Should there be more? Is it healthy to have more?

“Being connected to one another is not only to understand one another, but to empathise with the other person,” said our second panellist, Professor Dato’ Dr. Andrew Mohanraj. “The cornerstone of being connected is to show empathy to the other human being. And when you do that, it enriches both your life and the life of the person connected to you.” Also, once we appreciate the fact that everyone is somehow interconnected, life is far more meaningful.

So, what is empathy? The dictionary definition states that it’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. HH SwamiGuru elaborates on this by saying that, “Every single person in this world has the same goal of being appreciated. That’s what they look for, consciously or unconsciously. In everything that we do, we seek an endorsement unknowingly. When we receive it, we feel good. Empathy paves the way for this to happen successfully each time.” He shares some examples of empathy which include sitting with someone and praying with them in their times of trouble, holding someone’s hand when they feel alone or simply being there for someone.

The last word on this subject belongs to HH SwamiGuru who adds, “When you do something for someone with empathy, there is a bond created that results in their appreciation or their acknowledgement of what you do. That closes the loop created in the heart. [You already have contact and contentment.] Empathy leads to appreciation which leads to contentment.” And that, really, is all we need to find our happiness in life.

Aneeta Sundararaj is a freelance writer who contributes stories and articles to many publications, both online and offline. Read more stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).

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