I have never ordered a meal from “Skip The Dishes”, “Grub Hub”, “Uber Eats” or the disturbingly increasing number of these services. Okay, we get pizzas delivered and for a treat, Chinese Food. But before you call me a hypocrite, I’d like to point out what concerns me.

The Internet promised a whole new world. The ability to sit in front of a computer and “go online”! Did you ever have a “pen pal”? That may seem goofy, but that’s what part of it was, right? Pen Pal Plus! Connect with someone across the world on your screen! Cool! Yes, I’m ancient! Actually, I’m not “ancient”, and that’s critical in these blogs. My favourite comment from people I speak for or who read my stuff is when the word “wisdom” is applied. I was born in 1960 and grew up in a small farming community in rural Saskatchewan. That’s in Canada, by the way! I was as lucky as anyone could be. Sure, we had our family quiet time since I was adopted by elderly foster parents, there were only three of us. But our extended family numbered literally in the hundreds.

It was the true sense of “community”! If it was the weekend, we probably weren’t home. There was always somewhere to be. If it wasn’t a big wedding, it might have been a funeral. My parents loved  to play “bridge” so if we weren’t at someone’s home, they were at ours. There was constant “chatter” and an abundance of laughter! One never, ever felt “alone”. That’s important for everyone, but picture what it meant to an armless child!

My involvement in creating TVAC, “The Thalidomide Victim’s Association of Canada”, in 1989 opened a portal to information that both shocked me and increased exponentially my gratitude for my aforementioned lifestyle. You see, dozens of parents were so devastated by their “deformed babies”, they became “shut-ins”!  It was my first personal experience with “Social Isolation” and it’s devastating effects!

Cats Are For Community

Did it ever occur to you, the Internet has become the ultimate pimp for “Social Isolation”? Listen up please. You can now eat every meal at home, whether by the delivery of cooked meals, or even your groceries. You never have to go to a mall, any store or practically any service can be delivered right to your front door. You don’t have to go to a theatre to see your favourite movies and even Hollywood is helping by turning every stage productions from Broadway into a movie. “Cats” was just released with a stunning cast and multi million dollar production costs. But, and I’m just wondering here…isn’t Cats supposed to be “live” in a theatre? Darlene and I were so lucky to see “Mama Mia” in London, England in a stunning theatre. The last twenty minutes, everyone was on their feet, singing along. Sorry to say this as I truly love my wife, but she really can’t sing; and it didn’t matter even a little bit. It was about the power of the energy in a  building designed to drive your senses to a high that no drug can produce!

People Need To Be With People and if that just made you cringe, sorry, but please keep reading!  So, here’s what prompted this blog. I watch television, maybe too much, especially when I’m travelling alone for my Motivational Speaking. Recently, I noticed a ton of ads for “Peloton”. It is, if you’ve been in your own cave, an exercise bike, but it’s “special”. It comes with its own “coach”. Yep! There it is! On the very high tech screen, you log in to watch an ultra-fit, professional cyclist ride. And there appears to be a whole bunch of people doing the same thing, watching and cycling. The pro can’t see you, but pretends to. It’s a logical extension of the explosion of “personal coaches” that oddly coincided with the explosion of new speakers looking for work; but I digress.

Alone By The Millions

I’m not against “coaching” or even Peloton, but is it just me? Around the same time, a new product has come out called “The Mirror”. It’s even more expensive and no bike necessary. You mount it on a wall in your home, connect to the magical internet, and for a monthly fee, you can have online instruction. Again, they can’t see you, but you can see them. And the best part…You’re All Alone!

Am I being too sarcastic? Probably.

My wife used to go to a gym to work out and while chatting about this blog, she told me something she never told me in the late 1990’s when we lived in Regina, but she quit the gym because of how often she got “hit on”! That’s both disturbing and not surprising at the same time. Some guys have more testosterone than brain cells! So, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying if you buy a Peloton, you are headed to a padded room!

What I’m saying is, from my perspective, people cannot live in a cave! it’s a powerful element of mental health. You may not connect home delivery of your groceries to social isolation, but at the grocery store, you must learn to be with people. You may not love the mall, but you are supporting the staff required to  serve you in a real store, not some Call Center in a foreign country. You may love a delivery person bringing healthy, chef prepared meals to your kitchen and no dishes, but what about the energy of a real restaurant where people commune to celebrate eating! It may be safer and more convenient to ride a bike in your bedroom but what about the human connection of joining a cycling club for people at your same level and revelling in a tour through the real mountains and the incredible “fresh air”!

Look, I am not trying to insult anyone here because that’s never my intention. But let’s go to one more connection…the human one. In November, I spoke to a large group at a convention for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. They are all seeing an increase in the sheer number of charities popping up so “competition” for the donor dollar is getting tougher than ever. But what’s really becoming a problem is finding volunteers! Human beings leaving their caves to do what only human beings can do. Ironically, many of these charities exist because of social isolation. Mental health services continue to expand to deal with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, etc. Okay, the internet isn’t all to blame but when the new normal is never having to go out in public, shouldn’t we at least be conscious of this startling new trend?

A Sense Of Isolation

And then there’s this! I try not to “time stamp” my blogs but can’t pretend that I’m writing this just before Christmas. Talk about a complicated “holiday” and while I’m venting a tad, I “NEVER” say…”Happy Holidays”, and I’m not being stubborn. To me, “holidays” are in the Summer at our cottage or a sun “holiday” to my beloved Antigua. But that’s not the real complicated part. Every ad you see has “families” and that’s okay, until it’s not. I vividly remember Christmas, 1982. I was totally into skiing and planned a trip with several friends in Saskatoon to drive to Montana for a week on the slopes. The trip left before dawn on December 26th! I was so proud of my newfound independence at 22 years old. But my parents lived three hours away and going home for Christmas didn’t make sense…to me! It made way less sense…to them! Honest, it simply never occurred to me what it meant for them to have me home. Because back then, life was “all about me!” That’s not a cheap shot at anyone, by the way, but it is a powerful observation.

This time of year, “Social Isolation” also means those who are alone, have no family or they simply can’t get to them, or they’ve lost a loved one around this time of year and the reminder is gut wrenching. This year is our first one in 19 years without Trixie, our beloved cat who died in April. It guts me thinking about a cat, for goodness sake! What’s a “happy time” for so many can be a miserable one for others. You see some parents spending perhaps thousands of dollars on a young child for multiple presents under the tree while millions of children get nothing!

My wife points out that sometimes, I can be a bit judgmental. Again, not my first thought to be when I wake up. But Christmas seems to magnify so many emotions, good…and bad. I’m not suggesting if you don’t visit a homeless shelter, you’re selfish. And if you want to get fit and healthy but not comfortable with your body so hate gyms, something I understood for way too long, buy yourself “The Mirror”. Or if you, like some friends of ours, have two small children, one with Down’s Syndrome, and going to the grocery store is just too much so online delivery makes more sense, cool! I’m not saying any of these conveniences or preferences are of themselves, evil! And I’m not anti-internet! I also know the 60’s were a long time ago and had it’s own human flaws.

So please consider something you may not have ever thought of. What about the “Gift of You”? Seriously! My wife and I were out recently and it was a slippery day to walk. Ahead of us was an elderly woman and ahead of her what I would ironically describe as someone who goes to a gym, likely everyday. They can be stereotyped too, right? As this lady got to the curb to go into a mall, she looked unstable and nervous. I’m obviously useless but saw Darlene react and as if the same exact thought occurred to this big man. So he turned around to look behind him, ran back and not only took her by the elbow, but helped her up the curb, walked her up to the building, opened the door and before he left, made sure she was okay! You should have seen her face. If I was reading her mind, I’m guessing it was not only thinking what a nice gesture, but maybe even restored her faith in young people, who rightly or wrongly, are being seen as somewhat selfish and not always “connecting” to the world around them because they’re “connected” to their device! We’ve all seen it and it’s not just young people. Walking down a street while staring at your smart phone is the most ludicrous example of “public social isolation”! The point is, you get to “choose”. I don’t carry my smart phone, duh, so I am in a constant state of mindfulness.

Making People Cry On Airplanes

I was flying somewhere last month and I always take a moment to engage with my seat mates. You can tell if they’re a “talker” or not, and trust me, I talk for a living. I certainly don’t “need to” on a plane! It happens all the time. I don’t talk loud on purpose, but have a big voice, so my personal chat with the person next to me often gets heard by others. When leaving the plane after landing, I constantly hear…”I wasn’t eavesdropping but could hear your story and I really needed to hear that today!” The one last month was less common. Their was a woman next to me who looked to be in her 30’s and she looked a bit introverted. She did offer to help if I needed any, very common by the way, and in reply, as usual, I briefly explain how I was born without arms and travel all the time as a Motivational Speaker. That often leads to more chatting. But only if they want to. This lady didn’t seem to want to. It was about twenty minutes before we landed that the lady spoke up and I’m clearly paraphrasing but not creating what she said; “I’m sorry if I appear anti-social but I’m struggling with some mental health issues. Tell me if I’m wrong but you probably talk about that, huh? (I do, I said) Well, six months ago, we lost a child to cancer. (I said sorry to hear that) I haven’t dealt with it well. And I’ve been watching you this whole flight. You put your headphones on and worked on your iPad. That’s really amazing (I’ve heard that more than once) but tell me if I’m being nosy…Do you ever get depressed?”

So we talked for the remainder of the flight, I happened to have a copy of my book, “Alvin’s Laws of Life”, so wrote a personal note and signed it, then gave it to her. She cried. I got an email a week for so later and she got quite emotional. She read the book. It not only brought her out of her depression, but she was going to volunteer at her local Salvation Army Kettle Drive and instead of…her words; “Moping around the house feeling sorry for herself, she’s going to the mall, on purpose, to show gratitude, not for what she lost, but what she still has!”

When I start to reflect this time of year, I also get out the Kleenex! I was blessed to have 35 Christmas’s with my Mom until she died in 1996, and five more with my Dad who left us in 2001. And I still wish I would have went home instead of going skiing…honest!

So how about instead of making the easy, convenient and maybe even “lazy” choice to “stay in”, step out into a world that’s full of the sheer beauty of humanity!

It’s all how we each see it I guess!