Step away from the screen and into the world

Even in a world saturated with screens telling us how lousy things are and why we should hate one another, there are ways to take stock and stay united, Ronda Graff writes.

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As the mother of seven children, I can say that my general practitioner is vitally important. The same doctor has served my family for more than 25 years.

She has brought all of my kids into the world, including on Thanksgiving Day when she put a turkey in the oven, rushed to the hospital to deliver a baby, returned to a house full of guests, and finished the meal. She has administered countless stitches, dealt with dozens of earaches, and given every dose of vaccine required. And she can tell you everything you would want to know about Nebraska Cornhusker volleyball. She is not just our doctor, she’s a family friend.

But something changed just a few years ago. For the first time, she started hanging political flags in her front yard. Even if the Nebraska winds tear them to shreds, the flags are soon replaced with a new set of banners, broadcasting a viewpoint that is the polar opposite of mine.

Upon seeing them, I admit that I cringed. I questioned whether my family and I should continue as her patients. But while I realized that we didn’t connect politically, the decision was easy. If she would have me as a patient, I wanted her to continue as my doctor.

Why, when other doctors are available?

For starters, this doctor has been in our lives at every life stage. She quit serving as an obstetrician midway through the seven children but vowed to deliver all of them. She asks how the kids are doing in school. Our Christmas card hangs on the wall in her office.

I also knew that we cannot continue to operate in silos. By staying her patient, I was leaving the door open for a conversation. If I chose to sever those ties, I was essentially slamming the door to any meaningful dialogue down the road.

My doctor is a friend and community member first. While politics may grab our attention, it is not what shapes every decision we make. Our doctor had been in our lives for nearly three decades, yet I never recalled a political discussion. Why should it derail our relationship now?

I know this isn’t always the case in these kinds of situations. Lifelong friendships are ending because of political differences. People who have sat side-by-side in church no longer speak to one another. People who have supported businesses for years are choosing to take it elsewhere over hard political feelings.

So what has changed? While there may be many attributing factors, could it simply boil down to screen time and constant influx of news, especially the inherent negativity of us vs. them?

It is important to stay informed about your world, but we have reached a saturation point. News is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you allow it, there is never a break from the news – and it can make our future together seem hopeless.

Yet in fact, there are many reasons to be positive – to be optimistic, especially if you take a step back from the screens and realize all the good things happening in the real world. By making the conscious decision to interact with those around us, we can begin to appreciate the people we see day in, day out.

Of course, there are constant demands to make our communities, our country, our world better. But we won’t make those changes if we don’t have those relationships in place.

And those are built over time. They are built on trust. They are built by having conversations, both easy and difficult. They are built by putting down our screens and looking one another in the eye and acknowledging that we have our differences – but by working together, we can make our communities, our country, and our world better.

As we near the end of the year, let’s reflect on the good things in our lives. It is the perfect opportunity to make a few changes in how we go about our day-to-day worlds. It is a good chance to appreciate the people who make our communities a great place to call home by taking just a few simple steps. My suggestions:

›› Turn off the screens for a while. Instead, talk to your neighbor and you’ll realize you have more in common that you have differences.

›› Set down the newspaper and go for a walk. You’ll likely run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and end up in a 20-minute conversation.

›› Put away the phones during dinner and simply listen to how everyone else’s day has gone.

›› Instead of scrolling when bored, maybe write a simple “thinking of you” postcard to a friend with whom you haven’t connected in a while.

We all want the same thing: what is best for our families and what for our communities. That can happen by stepping back into the real world – a world full of friends, family, and neighbors. Let’s give it a try.

Ronda Graff is a native of Omaha who has lived 25 years in McCook and Southwest Nebraska. She cherishes her roles as a mother and the coordinator for the McCook Community Foundation Fund.

For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here

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