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Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Nov. 28, 2012

Have an old-fashioned conversation

By Maj. Joseph Wingo 628th Communications Squadron commander

As we move into the holiday season, we generally consider it to be a time of the year that brings friends and family closer together. We emphasize strengthening the bonds of relationships that support us through tough times and create lasting meaning. All of that being said, it's interesting that some of the most popular gifts given during the holidays are "gadgets" that enable us to act like hermits, only peeking out of our technological caves to gather food and verify that the sun indeed still rises.

At all levels of leadership training, we're taught the importance of "leadership by walking around" and the value of face to face interaction with our Airmen and Sailors. However, as we continue to become inundated by technology, it's easy for our face-to-face social skills to get a bit rusty. I strongly doubt anyone onJoint Base Charleston, no matter what their level or position, began their leadership journey with a goal of "accomplish stacks of email daily ... " We don't start out that way, but it's easy to get swept up by the demands an inbox creates. Before you know it, your daily priorities have been determined by Microsoft Outlook.

The same can be said for our home lives. Social media is a great tool for keeping in touch with family and friends, but when we allow it to replace face-to-face conversation and real interaction, we've then allowed the medicine to become the poison.

And it's not just social media that can be a problem. Have you ever asked your kids to take off their headphones and found that it was every bit as painful as asking them to pull out teeth? What about those days when you speak more to your family via text messages than personal conversations? Have you ever disciplined your child via a text message? Does your kid know more about HALO 4 than they know about your personal values and why those values are important to you? Recently, I swapped a few text messages with my son, and in one of his replies he typed "ROTFL." As I read the text it actually made me kind of sad. I really would have rather seen him roll on the floor laughing, and been part of that laughter.

For you single Airmen, personal interaction is just as crucial. The technology might be great for keeping up with the folks back home, but when was the last time you spent 30 minutes just shooting the breeze with somebody in an actual face-to-face conversation?

There is a lot of scientific research showing the positive mental, emotional and physical health benefits of personal social interaction. The Institute of Mind and Biology conducted a study on rats, comparing those housed by themselves to those living in groups. Those living in groups lived 40 percent longer and also recovered more quickly from illness.

Additionally, even studies showthat people who are lonely display more cardiovascular problems than people with friends. I once knew an Airman who wouldn't say two words during a face-to-face conversation, but he was a total extrovert in his on-line gaming community. His disproportionate emphasis on his "virtual" life ended up resulting in such severe physical and psychological issues that he had to be hospitalized.

I'm sure this isn't anything you haven't heard or thought about before, so please just consider this a friendly reminder. As we go through the holiday season, think about putting down the headphones, turning off the TV, setting down the tablet, or stepping away from your desk. Instead, spend some time strengthening a relationship, swapping some stories, venting about what's stressing you out, and sharing a laugh. The best way to do all of that is with an old-fashioned conversation.