My wife and I live in a neighborhood with a HOA (Homeowners Association). Everyone who moves into a home signs an agreement to live by specific guidelines about upkeep, yard maintenance, and curb appeal.
One of our neighbors has failed to keep the agreement. This is not uncommon, but what makes her situation difficult is she has gone silent. Absent.
- She won’t respond to emails.
- She won’t respond to notes in her mailbox.
- She won’t answer her door.
This neighbor agreed to the boundaries and guidelines when she moved in, but when they became difficult, she not only refuses to cooperate, her recourse was to avoid interaction. She’s a grown adult who evidently can’t find the courage to talk.
This is a picture of a growing pattern I see today.
What’s Trending in America
Over the last eighty years, our culture has been trending this way. While most of us live, work, play, and attend school in a community, we’ve been conditioned to disregard our unwritten social contract with each other. Over the last several decades, we interact with our neighbors less on the front porch; we don’t belong to as many civic clubs or churches; teens have learned to “ghost” each other instead of having a hard conversation via text message; and more people are living and dining alone now than in the past. Teens are meeting and dating less in person and more via a screen. When we look at the data, it appears we are moving toward a state of avoidance—sometimes, anti-social behavior. We are not bad people. We are just not willing to work at relationships.
If you were to call someone from the Millennial generation or Generation Z, they are more likely to text you back than call you back. You may not even get a reply. According to a 2018 Deloitte survey of Millennials and Generation Z, 43% plan to quit their jobs in the next two years. While some do so for legitimate reasons, you and I both know it’s often due to not feeling any loyalty to or from their employers. We’ve developed a free agent mindset. Ours is a day of hyper-individualization.
The chairman of our neighborhood board now sports a tongue-in-cheek sign in his office: “Mr. Rogers did not adequately prepare me for the people in my neighborhood.”
How Do We Raise Counter-Cultural Kids?
The downside of all this is huge, not the least of which is a population of people who are intensely lonely and can’t seem to break into a clique or cultivate healthy relationships.
If we are not intentional in our leadership, today’s emerging generation will learn poor habits from this culture of avoidance. Consider what today’s kids are watching:
- Adults who experience conflict with a neighbor but are more apt to call the police than to talk to their neighbor.
- Adults who spot a problem but are prone to hide behind an angry tweet instead of actually doing something about the problem.
- Adults who fail to work at the relationships in their neighborhood or church or athletic club and keep things superficial.
- Adults who’ve become polarized politically and can’t seem to listen and talk to those with an opposing viewpoint. They hide in their echo chamber.
So, how can we model healthy relationships instead of avoidance?
1. Become self-aware with a feedback exercise.
Often, I believe I’m not even conscious of the example I set for my kids. So, it’s healthy to perform a little exercise with your spouse or family or friends called “What’s It Like to Be on the Other Side of Me?” It’s a permission-giving activity that allows both people to voice the positive and not-so-positive qualities of the other person. It’s like a 360-degree evaluation from those around you. This enables you to spot if you practice avoidance behaviors or helps you to be perceived as one who’s willing to do the work involved in a community.
2. Talk about our social contract.
Sit down with your kids and talk about the essential nature of our social contract. Every healthy civilization agrees upon a social contract. This is how we treat each other in order to succeed in life. We attend schools; we respect our community curfew; we obey traffic laws; etc. If we don’t keep our unwritten social contract with others in our culture, we lose the benefits of that culture. But we can’t have it both ways. In our day of hyper-individualization, students need to know that support always comes with accountability.
3. Get involved and belong to a club or community.
If we talk to our kids about social contracts, we better make sure we’re modeling them in our own lives. Our moral authority rests on whether we exemplify responsible conduct.
For years, my wife and I were involved in a small group of other married couples who met regularly for support and accountability as parents. I believe it was healthy for our kids to watch their mom and dad belong and remain committed to this community, even when meetings were inconvenient. When the group dissolved, it worked to identify a new community of people to invest in and experience support and accountability from. We will soon begin meeting with and coaching a group of young married couples. Is it easier to stay in and watch TV instead? Yes. Yet, is it healthier to participate in this group? Yes.
4. Fight a utilitarian viewpoint when it comes to people.
I’ve met high school and college students who acknowledge they know leaders who espouse a utilitarian perspective toward other people. This means people are seen as tools the leader can use to get what he wants. Many in my Baby Boomer generation have been guilty of this point of view. We love things and use people instead of the other way around. We’ll never cultivate a new generation of leaders who keep the social contracts in their communities if we act utilitarian. People deserve respect and dignity.
5. Practice the 101% Principle.
It is far too easy to spot what we don’t have in common with other people. This makes us want to withdraw from them. Life becomes about us and them. The 101% principle encourages us to identify the 1% we have in common with someone and give it 100% of our attention. This is how civility is cultivated and withdrawal from others is diminished. It is our only hope to overcoming avoidance.
Let’s stop avoiding what we should face like leaders and set an example for our kids.
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