Distance is a liar. It distorts the way we see ourselves and understand each other. ~Brene Brown
This quote grabbed me when I switched from a 6 minuted guided travel meditation to a book on MP3 during my train ride to work early Friday morning. It was in the introduction to the book: The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer during which I encountered the quote. This goes to show one should never skip the introduction to a book. I was immediately struck by the beauty of it’s multi-dimensional truth. I could barely wait to get out of the train, sit beneath the Picasso, and use my pen to explore it in depth.
Distance Measured By Space
My first reaction was to distance as a function of the physical space between individuals. It was of how the space between people can distort our view of them creating an us versus them mentality. A distortion which results in a refusal to accept them as human beings with a valid perspective. A perfect example of this is the sick view many Americans have of Muslims and vice versa. It was of how the space between us allows us to create caricatures, frequently evil, always distasteful, saddling people we will never meet with unacceptable characteristics painted by little minds.
We use the distance to hate, to attack, to wage war, or infuse the ‘others’ with evil intentions that may or may not exist. The distance does not have to be thousands of miles. It can also be the distance between us and the human at the other end of the Internet we troll.
I was associated with a global project years ago. In the infinite wisdom of a Management team far removed from the reality of product development, all ‘non-essential’ international travel was banned. The teams were not allowed to visit each other for over two years.
The relationship between the teams, which was already rocky, degraded into one of mistrust, painfully detailed ass covering documents, and a ruinous belief the other side was nonproductive as the result of laziness. Development slowed to a point that was many times more expensive than the few thousand dollars it would have cost for a face to face visit.
Finally, after a two-year moratorium, the travel ban was lifted and a visit was allowed. In the space of a couple of weeks, the mistrust melted away enough that enabled the project teams to function at a much higher level.
Distance Measured by Time
Distance is a function of the time between a past event and the now. Every second our present moves into the past. Every minute our past moves close to the distant past. Our yesterday becomes last week. Last year becomes decades ago. With each expansion our understanding of events becomes blurred.
I have a story I tell about how I grew an intense aversion to needles associated with vaccines. The fear hearkens back to my youth when my mom, a nurse, gave us shots of penicillin when sick because the medicine enters the blood system much more quickly than a pill so the healing process gets a jump start. (When you hide the sickness because of a dread fear of needles the jump start is lost – but that’s another story.) I learned to hate the pain from needles so much, my parents would have to hold me down while the medicine was injected into my rear end.
I wonder now if I truly remember the the incidents as they occurred or am I remembering the events from the last time I told the story, which may have distorted the events over time. Is my memory lying to me? I will have to ask my mom the next time I see her. But, her memory most likely has also grown fuzzy over time. Is it possible to ever know remember the exact truth from decades ago?
Distance Measured by Connectedness
Distance is a function of the emotional connectedness between individuals. The man sitting to my left reading the paper is wearing the same colored sport coat as I am. He is a mere arm length away and exists in the same moment obliteration both distance as space and distance as time. Still, we are as far apart as my friends living in India, as far apart as the memories of my youth.
Of the three distances, emotional distance is the one we can most easily rectify and also the one that is most difficult to overcome. I can obliterate all three distances with a simple, “Hello. How are you today?” The difficulty is because I must be vulnerable and risk rejection to approach the stranger, a potential friend. Fear of vulnerability frequently trumps our need to be connected.
I chose not to say hello and create a bridge. I finished my musing, put my pen back into my messenger bag, headed into the office. I walked away. The distance that was only emotional became distance in space and distance in time. The triumvirate of growing distances ensures he and I will never have the opportunity to understand each other. I will only remember him as a sitting old man wearing a navy sportcoat reading a paper. I will remember a shell of who he really is, a distortion of the god infused human being sitting next to me.