How Eating Alone Costs More Than You Think

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Unfortunately, when we don’t experience a healthy community at home, we have a difficult time replicating it somewhere else.

Previously, I wrote that America continues to shift as a modern society. Americans now eat most of their meals alone, a new study found, as families finding it more difficult to find time to eat together. What’s more, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of single-person households. Some predict the trend will continue and even increase.

Thanks to a variety of factors — including our high-tech, low-touch world — we find it easier to interact via a screen. Screens have made us lazy, where we opt for a text rather than a call, an email instead of a face-to-face conversation, and a Skype call over a road trip. When we travel, we wear a one-person shell (headphones or ear buds) so we don’t have to talk to the person sitting next to us on the airplane. Ugh. What a hassle.

As I speak with young adults, many say marriage sounds like too much work—and they haven’t seen a healthy one anyway. It’s just easier to be single and hook up; that way, you get the perks without the price tag. Relationships are emotionally expensive. What’s the easiest way to make a connection? Wifi is easier than a wife.

  • In 2003, single-person households became the most common living arrangement in the United States.
  • In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam’s acclaimed analysis of the social fabric of America demonstrates the decline of social capital.
  • In the 1970s, two-thirds of Americans belonged to organizations with regular meetings. By the 1990s, the number had dropped to one-third.

May I weigh in, with my thoughts?

I believe students desperately long for genuine community—an experience with people marked by depth, trust and transparency. But, alas, few ever experience this. And many have never seen adults model it either. Many students I meet want what they don’t have—but don’t know how to obtain it.

I’m convinced humans are social creatures, even more so than other primates. Daniel Goleman, author of both Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, reiterates this truth. While all species communicate in some way, people are different than animals in the way we interact and communicate. In short, we were made for community. (By the term “community,” I mean a cluster of people in close relationship who offer support, accountability and who foster growth.) The paradox is that it seems most people both hunger for this… and run from this.

I believe the biggest reason why families are being redefined today is not because of liberal vs. conservative ideology. It’s because we had to embrace a new “community” when the nuclear family exploded. Traditional families have been broken, yet people still want to be in a “family,” even if it’s temporary. Sadly, this family thing often fails. Whether in a home, a team, a dorm, a company, a gym or a church, we tend to walk away rather than work at difficult relationships. We’re like porcupines—we tend to hurt each other when we get close. This happens first with those closest to us.

In a previous blog, I mentioned the slow disappearance of family mealtimes means that parents and children are also spending less time together. Indeed, teenagers who have dinner with their parents fewer than three times a week are four times as likely to use tobacco, twice as likely to use alcohol, and one-and-a-half times more likely to use marijuana, according to a 2012 study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Unfortunately, when we don’t experience healthy community at home, we have a difficult time replicating it somewhere else.

Instead of believing the best about others, we assume the worst and file lawsuits quickly. Instead of fighting for our most important relationships, we fight against them. Three times in less than two weeks, a commercial flight had to be grounded because passengers—adult passengers—were fighting over a reclined seat. Wow. Do you think maybe we need to grow up? I understand how frustrating it is to try to work on a tray table when the seat in front of me is reclined (I fly over 200 times a year). But grounding a flight because we couldn’t resolve our conflict over a seat? This should be embarrassing to modern civilization.

What Can We Do on the Job?

We are designed to live interdependently with one another. As a whole, males need females and vice versa, even though we work to do it all ourselves. I believe we need different ethnic groups to help us develop empathy and understanding. I think we need people who just think differently—with good reason—to keep us on our toes and push us to think deeply about why we do and think the way we do.

Let me offer a little encouragement as you reflect on how this affects your team. In our office, we take steps to foster community. We stock our kitchen with food and allow our team members to eat for free—as long as they eat with someone else. They don’t’ have to talk about work, but we want to cultivate “community” among our people. We’ve found that when we lubricate relationships, the team runs more smoothly.

In addition, we host a weekly Lunch and Learn on Mondays. During this time, our entire team eats together and we share what’s happening in both our personal lives and our professional lives. Then, we spend time on personal growth, discussing a significant leadership principle and applying it to our careers and families.

We also hold a weekly “Stand Up” meeting, where we stand in a circle and preview the major priorities each team member has that week. We write the objectives down on a large white wall and remain standing to keep the meeting short and sweet. It keeps us accountable and supportive of each other. It also insures communication and understanding… and yes, even empathy.


 

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