Group texts with your college friends are nice. Occasional gatherings are even nicer. It just isn’t enough.
In 1992, just as the internet was being invented, psychotherapist James Hillman said this to Michael Ventura in one of my favorite conversations of all-time:
“Hillman: Look, a great deal of our life is manic. I can watch thirty-four channels of TV, I can get on the fax and communicate with people anywhere, I can be everywhere at once, I can fly across the country, I’ve got call waiting, so I can take two calls at once. I live everywhere and nowhere. But I don’t know who lives next door to me. Who’s in the next flat? Who’s in 14-B?
You see, this hyper communication and information is part of what’s keeping the soul at bay.
Ventura: And when you ask, “What about the person in 14-B?” are you or I respecting that person as part of the community or as an individual? Neither, if we choose to be totally cut off from them. And if they accept being cut off from us, they’re not respecting us either, in any of our roles. We’re talking about neighbors, after all. Yes, to ignore the fact that one is or has a neighbor is a profound form of disrespect, both to the other and to ourselves, and it’s completely taken for granted now in our cities and suburbs. I take it for granted; I ignore my neighbors and I bet you do too.
Hillman: I think it’s absolutely necessary for our spiritual life today to have community where we actually live. Of course, we have dear friends from thirty years ago who are living in Burma or Brazil now. And they’re there for you when you’re busted — in an emergency. But is that sufficient? For the maintenance of the world? It’s definitely not. I think for the maintenance of the world that other kind of local community requires regular servicing. And that’s a very unpleasant, hard thing to stay with, to realize how much service one needs to perform — not for an old, distant friend, but for the people in 14-B.
Ventura: How can therapy possibly deal with that? I mean, nuts and bolts.
Hillman: Part of the treatment of these difficulties is to look at a person’s schedule, his notebook, her calendar. Because your schedule is one of your biggest defenses.
Ventura: Treat my schedule?
Hillman: Treat your schedule. And I’ll tell you, I have had more resistance in trying to treat people’s schedules and change their schedules than you can ever imagine.”