Switch off the news and love your neighbor

I woke up on this beautiful Sunday morning, again, by alerts from my Facebook newsfeed and my Twitter account. All these things that had happened whilst being asleep – I really had to catch up on my friends in California and New Zealand and all the other corners of the world. Then, having consumed my fair share of social media, I had to check the newspapers, well, not really newspapers as these were all apps on my new shiny new iPhone. First, I checked the British “Independent” and “Guardian” and when I had consumed all the horrors of the world (mind that this was about 9 am – not so many horrors can actually happen in these early morning hours), I had to read the American and French newspapers and of course, the German newspapers, too. By 11 am, I finally crawled out of bed and my head actually felt a little heavy with all the bad news that had rained upon me, whilst the sun was out heralding what should have been a beautiful Sunday.

Neighbor

By the time all this had happened, the fact that my neighbor had had breakfast, went for a swim in the pool and back, and was probably sitting down to have a relaxing coffee now, had been pretty much unnoticed by my social-media-embedded self. What had I learned this morning that justified my absence from the real world that was taking its course outside of Facebook? Do I need to communicate with the entire world before the thought of my neighbor finally crosses my mind? The answer to that question is a simple no, and I will tell you what happened next and why that has reshuffled the way I am thinking and interacting with the world.

Of course it is great to be connected to the globe, that it is so easy to download the latest news whenever and wherever you want, but seriously, does it justify to be ‘disconnected’ with the world around you and ignore all these human beings that are physically closest to you? My neighbor is lovely and I sometimes have tea or coffee with her, but, unfortunately being as busy as I am with my Hipster lifestyle and my iPhone, this does not happen merely as often as it should. That very Sunday, I lived my selfish life and ventured on by going to the gym, doing some shopping and watching a movie in the cinema. Of course, my companion, the new shiny iPhone, kept me updated of the world via newsfeed and pop-up messages – nothing my friends were doing in the rest of the world seemed to get unnoticed and I was confident that I am ‘up-to-date’ with what had been going on in the world.

The next morning, indubitably a Monday morning, a new week started like any other week. Monday is a working day, so I needed to limit my facebook updates to half an hour before getting dressed in a smug shirt and jacket and consume my green smoothie with the fruits and vegetables from the organic supermarket from Saturday. I stepped out of my apartment and bumped into my neighbor from upstairs. She was alone and her head was hanging down staring at the floor. “Good morning”, I said, expecting a polite ‘good morning’ as a response back from her. She didn’t reply with this expected phrase, which would have been my safe ticket to get to work quickly without having to waste any more thoughts on her or her emotions. Instead, she looked at me with glassy eyes and said: “Why?” No, I was not prepared for that and reluctantly, reluctantly because I had to go to my important job that could not handle my being late ten minutes, I asked back: “Why what?”

Two tears appeared on her rosy cheeks and she stared of me for a few seconds, a few second that seemed like eternity. She was trembling and her voice was shaky. That really gave me the chills and it made me stop thinking about my Monday morning and my important job and I added simply to my cold ‘why what’: “Dear, what is up? Can I help you somehow?” Immediately, she burst into tears.

Yesterday, on Sunday morning when I was engrossed in consuming the world of Facebook and Twitter, her father died. She did go swimming as I had a assumed and suddenly it dawned upon me that the ‘relaxing coffee’ she may have had at 11 am was not a relaxing coffee at all. I had assumed that everything was fine and that the world was ticking just as it always ticked alongside the Facebook newsfeed. I wasn’t there for her when she needed people to console her. No, I could not have stopped the terrible thing that happened in her family, but a bit of compassion and care would have made a huge difference to her.

This was a wake-up call for me and I hope I can convince you that this could be a wake-up call for you, too. Of course we can stay on Facebook and learn about our friends in all the remote corners of the world; but we need more empathy, care and compassion with those around us. And the best part is that this compassion and care is reciprocal. I now have regular coffee with my neighbor and we started talking to each other more often. I live alone and talking to my neighbors and being more aware of the people around me has transformed my life. Of course I am still friend with all those connections on facebook, but now I spend a little less time commenting on every post I ‘like’, and talk to the people that are around me.

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About Sebastian Müller

Sebastian Müller was born and raised in Leipzig/Germany and moved to England as an adolescent. He is a trained research chemist and geneticist and is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut Curie in Paris/ France working in cancer research. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and is still actively involved at the university today. He is fluent in English, German and French and has many fortés and interests including science, philosophy, linguistics, history, competitive sports such as rowing, fitness and nutrition. He is a freelance writer also drawing from his experience as an author in peer-reviewed scientific journals. "I love writing and putting my thoughts down on paper. The written word to me is one of the most powerful ways of conveying thoughts and initiating discussions."
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