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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

Ties That Bond

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Kay Pride, colleague, mentor and beloved friend, who was a master at making and maintaining connections, and a Saltzman seder participant.

This year, for the first time since the pandemic, Irv and I hosted our Passover mega-seder, with 16 guests gracing the tables in our living and dining rooms. Grandkids Selam and Dian did a lot of the heavy lifting, both figuratively and literally, setting up tables and chairs, donning the tablecloths, folding napkins into triangles and artfully arranging the silverware, glasses and dishes to create a festive atmosphere.

I did most of the cooking over a several-day period. Though it was labor intensive, when I sat down at the table with my guests to read our homemade Haggadah, I felt the sense of joy that comes with connecting to people whom we care about and who care about us. Sharing this tradition with family and dear friends creates deep ties that bond. I hadn’t appreciated how much I missed this annual celebration until I was once again experiencing it.

During dinner, two of the guests got into a conversation about connections. Since COVID, they both have been working remotely. My cousin got a new job in December. She has yet to meet in person the people she works with and for. She doesn’t even know what many of them look like since all the work is accomplished virtually.

Instead of water cooler conversations and impromptu shared lunches, there are emails, computer-based meetings and Slack, a business messaging app. My guests bemoaned that they hear Slack pings on their cell phones at 9 p.m. when the boss thinks of some task or idea he wants to share immediately. They are conflicted. Do they have to respond right then or can they wait until the next work day?

So, in this post-COVID, high-tech era, there is a troublesome dichotomy because employees are continuously connected virtually, and they are rarely connected in person – very different degrees of connection. Electronic connection is a cold medium that lacks so many of the cues that create bonds. In the warm medium of face-to-face communication, there are hugs and handshakes, signals from body language and vocal intonation, and genuine, real-time conversations.

Yes, working at home has some benefits; you can’t beat the commute and sweat pants are comfy. Yet the drawbacks override the convenience, my guests said. They are lonely and isolated. When you are communicating through email or messaging with Slack, you don’t take the time or even have permission to ask about a co-worker’s family, vacation plans or health. It’s all business. It’s hard to establish bonds, so it’s difficult to care about each other and build trust. We are sacrificing humanity for efficacy.

The discussion made me appreciate how fortunate I am to still have relationships with former colleagues although we haven’t worked together for more than 20 years. We meet for lunch, dinner and weekend retreats where we eat, drink and laugh a lot. We read and comment on each other’s blogs. We cheer each other on and cheer each other up.

Then there are my 45-year Colorado Press Women friends. We’ve learned together at conferences across our state and nation, had breakfast with a future president (then Sen. Biden) and future senator (then Mayor Hickenlooper), attended a press conference with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, met best-selling authors and top-notch journalists, and enjoyed Kentucky-style fried chicken in Kentucky while developing lifelong friendships.

I wonder what will happen to this post-COVID work generation. If they are not building relationships at work, where are they making lifelong friends? Religious institutions, professional organizations and civic clubs report a decline in membership among young people. Are people creating ties with their neighbors as they walk their dogs or are they too engrossed in their cell phone screens?

There is a great deal of research and seemingly endless articles about the importance of bonding for health and happiness. “Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems,” according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Are we endangering the health of the next generations by limiting in-person interactions? Have COVID and technology robbed us of well-being through meaningful connection? For the future of my loved ones, I hope not.

For my part, I’ll keep hosting seder and scheduling lunch with old friends. Let’s break bread (or matzo) together and create ties that bond.

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