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The Importance of Solitude in Developing Relationships

On Wednesday evening, St. Clement’s School hosted Dr. Sherry Turkle as our final speaker in our Parents’ Association sponsored LINCWell Speaker Series. Dr. Turkle is a renowned sociologist, psychologist, professor and author, and spoke to us most specifically about her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

Dr. Turkle’s stance is one I appreciate greatly as the School navigates the complex balance between the power and benefits of technology and the importance of personal connections and conversation. Turkle stressed that she is not anti-technology and that she is “neither a pessimist nor an optimist; rather, she is an activist,” working to provide research, insights and understanding of the need not only for conversation but also, solitude.

Turkle suggests, and I concur, that with increased connectivity to social media, children (and adults) are losing their capacity to be bored and are not benefiting from solitude. To be clear, Turkle suggests that solitude is not simply about being alone, but about being disconnected and alone within oneself to reflect, ponder, wonder and imagine. People feel increasing levels of worry, and even fear, of being disconnected from others, and yet, the technology-based connectivity is not the kind that fosters growth and deep relationships.

As Dr. Turkle said to us, “Solitude is where you gather yourself so that you know enough about who you are, and don’t have to turn to others to make you whole,” and that, “The capacity for solitude is the single most important path for grounding us in solid relationships.”

And so, as educational institutions and as families, how do we navigate the important waters to facilitate a balance between technological connectivity, solitude and face-to-face conversation? In Turkle’s book she provides some ‘guideposts,’ to assist. Turkle suggests:

  • Remember the power of your phone: to clear a path for conversation, set aside laptops and tablets. Put away your phone
  • Slow down: some of the most important conversations you will ever have will be with yourself
  • Protect your creativity: find your agenda and take time for quiet time
  • Create sacred places for conversation: setting aside a space communicates that, in this place, people pay attention to each other
  • Talk to people with whom you don’t agree: we can teach our children to talk to people who disagree with them by modeling these conversations ourselves
  • Obey the seven-minute rule: in conversation, it is often in the moments when we stumble and hesitate and fall silent that we reveal ourselves to each other
  • Challenge the view of the world as apps: the app view suggests there is an engineered sensibility- a predictability- to things that require empathy and thinking on one’s toes. We must know how to have difficult conversations
  • Learn from moments of friction: consider whether your relationship with technology is helping or hindering you. Consider that conflict can be a powerful moment for learning
  • Remember what you know about life: we learn the capacity for solitude by being ‘alone with’ another; if we distract ourselves with technology during these crucial moments, even the most passionate proponents of always-on connection admit to doubt;
  • Try to avoid all-or-nothing thinking: the complexity of our circumstances calls for a flexibility of approach

If you were not able to hear Dr. Turkle, I highly recommend her book Reclaiming Conversation. It is important that as School and community we consider her observations and recommendations as we guide our girls to get to know themselves and, thus, build deep, meaningful relationships.

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