I listened to an interview today with Douglas Rushkoff. Among other interesting things that I will take some time to dig deeper into, he talked about the digital era, social media, and human relationship.
The thing that caught me, in relation to what I’m working towards with hwyd, is that modern media has deliberately created a demand, and installed a need in our behaviour, for everything we touch, taste, listen to, watch, and consume in any way MUST have a satisfying conclusion.
That everything we do has to have a happy ending.
Humanity has always had desire for happy endings. You can trace it back to the first fairy tales, the first stories told around campfires, the first legends and myths that gave us the basis for what we know as religion and culture today.
But then, and until recently, the difference between those stories, and reality, was clearly defined. Most people throughout history understood what was demanded and expected of us in real life. Work, study, raising children, managing family, and challenges, all were expected to be difficult, and with no real anticipation that there would be a magical outcome.
People understood that to achieve, you had to work. And that to have success, you had to risk failure. That life was not a story. That it doesn’t have a script. That there is no perfect conclusion waiting to be handed to you.
Social media leans to offering us the exact opposite. Everyone manufactures these moments of created perfection to share, creating the illusion and expectation that the pictures they post are the reality of their life. And that if yours is any less, you’re not worthy.
I also learned a new phrase this week. Lawn mower parenting. The term used to be helicopter parents, who would hover over their children, and make sure that anything that happened would be fixed and the kid wouldn’t get upset. Now it’s more that parents go ahead of the kid and make sure that they never experience anything but smooth, even, carefully prepared ground.
I would happily have discussion, argument, or conversation about parenting tactics. I have four kids, and I work hard at being the best parent I can be. And I get it wrong all the time. In this instance I’m not here to tell you what I believe about parenting.
But the outcome of that style of parenting presents real changes in an entire generation of children. The conversation where I learned about lawn mower parents was with a friend that works with youth, mainly kids from 10-16 years old, in a group environment. He has worked in that field for almost twenty years. The reason the conversation came up was because we were trying to come to terms with a suicide that happened close to us two weeks ago.
He shared that in his work, over the last five years, there has been an immediate and apparent change in the kids he works with. When he started, years ago, instances of suicide were rare. Typically one or two over the course of years, and often with very specific circumstances that you could point to as a reason for that kind of pain. Abuse, trauma, substance problems, or diagnosed mental disorders. Now, just in the last few years, it’s been two or three a year, and growing, just in this small community. And with no apparent reason for the change.
He talked about how the difference he sees in the kids he works with now, is that they have an expectation that everything should be easy, should be simple, should have a perfect outcome. And when it doesn’t, they have no ability to cope.
Being forced into the simple situation of a pen running out of ink, a 16 year old kid breaks down and cries because he can’t figure out what to do. He demands to talk to the therapist he usually sees three times a week, and no one is fixing his problem for him.
We have children who are being built with a basic inability to interact with a real, unforgiving, harsh world. While simultaneously being deluged with a social media environment built on the illusion of perfection. No wonder people feel lost and not good enough.
Kids are dying because the fantasy they are taught is real, isn’t.
I’m paraphrasing what Rushkoff said in conversation, but his key points in this were:
“They have created the need, to give people a conclusion.”
“I’m not going to pay you if you don’t give me the answer by the end.”
“That is the most dangerous aspect of this cultural collapse that we’re in. Everything has to have an answer. Everything has to have a utility value.”
“There is an essential value to human camaraderie. To establishing rapport. To being together.”
That essential value of human connection can not be measured by money.
I struggle with how to create revenue from this concept as a service. I’ve spent months talking to the smartest people I know about how to build this business model. And arguing what I believe to be the critical importance of what I want to create.
It’s not therapy, it’s a relationship. It can’t be based on trading time for money, because then the focus is always on the minute, not the interaction.
I want equivalence. I want this to be as freely available to someone who needs it and would benefit from it, whether they make $4,000 a month, or $40,000 a month.
I want to build a donation model for people that can’t even afford the minimum $40 a week, but still need it.
I want it to support me, and every other Listener that is willing to devote a piece of their lives to creating and holding space for others.
And what is it worth? That, I am still learning. The value is what you as a client take away from the experience. It’s how you feel at the end of every day, knowing someone is there for you. It’s so many things that aren’t paying for a fantasy. You can’t buy this happy ending, because there isn’t one.
In another post I will share more, about how clients feel about their own experiences, and what it means to them, but for me it’s about going into every relationship with no expectations, and no agenda. To just be present, aware, and actually listen to what people need to share. For me, it’s enough to know that when a client pays their invoice, they always feel like they got the better end of the deal.
As a client of hwyd, you don’t pay to be fixed. You don’t pay for an outcome. You’re not paying for a friend, or therapy, or a solution to your problems.
You pay for a Listener to create time and space, devoted to you. And whatever happens within that, is simply a human relationship, between two people, sharing time, and focus, and attention. There is no conclusion. There is no win. There is no triumphant moment of success.
There is simply you, and me, in conversation.
And that matters.