Last week, I was taken out to dinner for my birthday, and I was joined by two amazing young men and my wonderful hubby. We ate at a popular, but local, steakhouse. I had such a nice time as we visited and joked about many things. The only negative to the evening was the table next to us. It had a whiney, bad-tempered male child with a loud voice. He didn’t want to be there, he didn’t like baked potatoes, he wanted a very expensive steak and NO! He was not going to share. Ugh!
At my table, my 12-year-old listened and turned to me with wide eyes. He didn’t say a word, but I knew he was listening. The kid at the next table was about his age, maybe a year or so younger. He was slumped on top of the table fussing and finally threw his menu at his dad. The mom sat there in total silence and nibbled on her salad while dad and kid left.
Meanwhile, we visited the salad bar and made our selections. Our youngest said that he needed to visit the bathroom. I scooted my chair out, and he kept hesitating. “Do you need out or not?” I questioned him.
He shook his head and kept looking over to the next table. Finally, he whispered to me, “They are in the bathroom.” I knew he was talking about the young boy and his dad.
About that time, the mom put her fork across her salad plate, signed the ticket, and left. I guess they were not in the bathroom after all. Perhaps dad had gotten tired of the fussing, or perhaps he called the mom from the car and announced that they were not coming back in. Either way, the absence of that particular noise made our evening even more enjoyable.
After the meal, we snapped some pics on our phones, burped a few times, and declared the evening a success. Later in the week, I was telling some of the other kids about how much fun the birthday evening had been when I realized that much of the enjoyment came from the fact that we were able to visit with each other while celebrating my special day.
Our local steakhouse does not have banks of televisions hung across each wall, nor was there any crazy music being piped in over our table. There was the sound of conversations and the clink of dinnerware but nothing extra added. Good food. Good conversation. It was enough.
I am not sure when the fad began that popular restaurants needed multiple televisions PLUS loud music roaring overhead. I can look back at the times we decided to take our children out to eat only to be bombarded by noise the entire time. No conversations. No joking or learning more about who we were or which direction our dreams were taking us. Just noise.
In fact, this fad has spread. Banks have televisions. Doctors’ offices have televisions. Car places have televisions. Schools now have televisions. Nail salons have televisions. When I lie back in my dentist’s office, there is a computer screen directly overhead, and they offer to play anything I want on Netflix. Good grief! Everywhere we turn, television, or an information loop of some sort, is bombarding our senses. Not to mention that most folks are continually tied to the internet in some form or fashion.
In our up-and-coming psychiatry office, we do not have a television, nor do we offer our Wi-Fi code. At first, it was because of the cost associated with installing a television in the waiting room, but as we grew, patients began to tell us how nice it was to come in and sit with no noise. We have one who practices meditation while she waits. Some cry while others simply sit with their eyes closed. Some pick out a book from our shelves as others play on their phones or iPads. One young man draws on his sketchpad. and Many of the children color in the coloring books.
Our waiting room is full of human noise, and I find that I prefer that to the overloud noise of information being vomited out of every outlet available, or to inflated egos cooking up dishes and desserts that sound awful. I prefer the sound of soft conversations offering grace and kindness to one more touchdown analysis or high-pitched princess drama.
Actually, I prefer giving “window therapy” to people who come to see us rather than installing a television. I like to listen to them, and I like to look at pictures of their kids and grandkids. I like to discuss where they went for vacation and where they are going for Christmas. I console and discuss and commiserate and give advice. We talk about the virtues of being in band and sports and chess club.
When the human connection is replaced with a television, we all lose. People are fascinating, and their stories are even more fascinating. Without the television, we learn that others have adopted their children. We learn that others have older parents who are struggling. We learn that Middle School is difficult for most, and we learn that we can lean on others for understanding.
We learn that a device can never take the place of one human listening to another.