A few weeks ago, I was riding BART from San Francisco to the East Bay during rush hour when a young man who differed from me by generation and ethnicity took the seat next to mine.
I set aside my Time magazine and said to him, “How’s your day going?” And with that, we embarked on a 40-minute conversation, him talking and me mostly listening. I did not take this as, “Oh, here we go again. The man is dominating the conversation,” but rather as an opportunity to give him the benefit of my attention and my ability to listen.
He told me that instead of going to college, he had pursued an apprenticeship and now had a high-paying construction job. He told me he was divorced and still not happy about that. He said his wife complained that he never listened to her. He said he told her that he’d been busy providing for her and their daughter and that when he got home he was tired.
He was beginning to realize that if he’d done things differently, he might still be married. Now he was worried that he may be making the same mistake with his new girlfriend. The more he revealed, the more I listened, the more he shared.
My first point here is to remind us that most of our fellow humans are starved for someone’s attention, to feel seen and heard, if only for a short BART ride.
My second point is that we need more face time with real people and less screen time with our devices. Facebook is not necessarily your friend. Some studies show that the more people use it, the more likely they are to become depressed. Emojis can never supplant the beating heart of human emotion.
I’m reminded of what Eric Hoffer once said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.” And what we really need, especially now, is one warm human to listen to our story. It’s the perfect gift for both of us.
With a Perspective, I’m Rosie Sorenson.
Rosie Sorenson is a former psychotherapist and author living in the East Bay.