The Abstract Relationship
The more our relationships move toward abstractions the farther we move from true intimacy. This is the danger of too much technology woven into our lives so much so that it becomes an invisible thick cocoon insulating us from true contact with one another and the world.
In teaching, the idea of a collegial relationship with your students as well as your peers is challenged when that relationship moves toward abstraction. You and I no longer need to meet, shoulder to shoulder, to work out a problem, or interpret a work. Instead, we can do so coolly and distantly. Absurdly a distance available despite the close proximity of a classroom. The distance may increase the feeling of security: I am free from a distance and disengagement from the immediacy of our presence to avoid risk--risk that comes in the form of original ideas and reactions, risk as an opportunity for growth. Our relationship as an abstraction gives me a greater sense of control, limiting my possibilities for failure, the modern age’s dirtiest word.
But, and I’m afraid it’s a big but, relationships as abstractions devastate the connection between us and between the subjects we learn. The distance caused by the abstraction has consequences which not only the education community feels but the larger society does as well. Those consequences can be seen in the heightened anxiety of so many of our children, the reluctance to seek out skills through trial and error, the movement toward tribalistic and hive thinking, the rejection of personal involvement in exchange for thoughts and prayers. When an emoji begins to supplant a tender smile of encouragement or a raised eyebrow of concern, we move farther and farther from communion with one another and more toward isolation. We grow dependent upon the distance, and its cold comfort becomes overwhelmingly preferable. You no longer feel the impact of the warm tear rolling down my cheek as I close this essay.