Have we become too passive and disconnected?

The question, ‘have we become more passive as a society?’ Is one that keeps coming up time and time again. The more I reflect on it, the more it seems as if society has unknowingly encouraged passive behaviour and disconnect. It’s having huge ramifications for us in every aspect of our lives. With things like mental health issues and depression being at an all-time high, and more and more people reporting feeling isolated, alone and losing their sense of belonging, is it time we stopped and did something different?

When I look at the work I do with my clients, a lot of it revolves around trying to heal from trauma that they have been subjected to, or it involves processing events which were outside of their control. This requires my clients to use all the skills, knowledge and techniques that they learn with me, so that they can then apply them to their own everyday life. This isn’t easy, and it requires determination to change things, motivation to keep going, and bravery to face the dark places in their thoughts, or the fear within their bodies. When I sit and think about what they’re up against, and what support is available to them outside of our sessions, it makes me realise that there is a multitude of complications they have to face, that might get in the way of their healing.

Let’s just look at a small number of factors and explore the impact they’re having and the messages we receive along the way:

  1. The moment we begin school, we are expected to sit quietly and listen to learn. We are often discouraged from arguing or being different, as this is disruptive to the rest of the class. We are taught the rules and are maybe punished if we try to deviate from them. The only time it seems like we are encouraged to be expressive is through art, music, dance, language or drama, but there are often limits there too. We are taught how to watch and take in information, this then extends out into the way we are entertained in our own spaces. We watch television, films, and theatre, where it’s beneficial to be passive.
  2. There are norms set for us with fashion too. There are rules, if we go too far outside of these we may risk ridicule or bullying. Because of that, we often try to avoid standing out and being a target. Standing out is often judged negatively, when really it should be applauded.
  3. The same with goes for food. Lots of people don’t cook and have very little motivation to learn, but who can blame them when there is either ready-made meals at the supermarket, or a delivery is just a few clicks away? This isn’t how we should be interacting with food, or learning how to have a relationship with what we put into our bodies. It’s hard to reverse behaviours like this, as it’s made so easy for us. In fact, we are often encouraged to be passive, which can be very habit-forming, making it a difficult loop to get out of.
  4. Technology has taken away a lot of the need to learn, because every answer you’re looking for is just a few clicks away in the palm of your hand, available whenever you need it. There’s also no need to learn complicated math when we all walk around with a calculator in our pockets.

It’s not that this has all been completely halted, that people no longer cook or learn, but it has created a change in behaviour and a disconnect, where more people are becoming reliant on other things, rather than doing things themselves. The problem with these behaviours, is that the more we do them, the harder it is to stop and change. The harder it seems, the greater the effort required and the further away it feels as an achievable goal. It’s a classic vicious circle and a pretty seductive one.

This programming makes it really hard to make any real changes in our lives. When we have always done things a certain way, it’s really hard to even think about what ‘different’ might look like. We often keep things quiet and to ourselves, in case the changes don’t work, or we don’t see any progress quick enough, or even that we’re too scared of failing.

The passive habit can also mean that we are often waiting for something to change around us rather than us being the change ourselves. Waiting for the right time, the right weather, the right moment. We often just don’t feel ‘ready’, and end up coming up with endless excuses of why now is not the right time. This can feel very disempowering and leads to self-criticism. It’s not our fault, but it’s something we really need to keep in mind before we start thinking about trying to implement any change going forward.

So how can we do something different?

One way we can try combating the passive behaviour, is by doing things as a collective, or a group. A lot of us find it much easier to do things if we know others are either supportive, or doing the same thing too. It increases our energy, motivation and support. Let’s take for instance, some of the popular habits that spring up every January, exercise and going alcohol-free. If the gym is too overwhelming, exercise classes can be easier to keep going to. That way you don’t have to worry about putting your own gym programme together, and it’s especially good to meet new people and get on with the others in the class. Dry January is popular because so many people are trying it together, supporting each other through it. Doing team sports also work, because we’re part of a team, they depend upon us but we get encouragement and a sense of belonging from our team mates.

When we think about the difference between passive and interactive, two of the common denominators are relationships and connections with others. We all stare at screens, phones, laptops, and TV’s, often alone, way more than we did years ago. It can be isolating and passive. If we really want to make any changes this year, whether that be physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological, then we need to think about what would make it easier to get started and to maintain. We have to think about the support we’ll need and how we can put that into place. How can we feel part of a bigger collective, even if it’s remotely? How can we build more offline connections?

We have been encouraged to be passive for far too long, to be happy with ready-made things and ease of access. 100 years ago we grew our own food, made our own clothes, built furniture, cooked everything, washed clothes by hand, and walked miles to get anywhere. Whilst we still do aspects of this, have we maybe swung the pendulum too far the other way? Becoming reliant on technology or other people doing things for us? Maybe it’s time to consider a middle-ground in which we are both online and utilising what we have, but also being offline and being more connected to what’s around us. It might require a little effort from us, but this can also come with a sense of achievement.

Now might be a good time to consider how passive our own behaviour is, and start learning to be more connected to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us. It might increase our energy day-to-day, our sense of purpose may wake up, our self-satisfaction might improve, our imagination might spark up more and our sense of belonging might just anchor itself. We might actually enjoy ourselves more. If even just one of those things happen, isn’t it worth it?

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