Why Try Circling? Part 2
The great victory of the modern era is individualism. We’ve literally fought wars and lost millions of lives to secure the prize of self-determination. We would never want to go backwards, and yet there is a sense that in our zealousness for personal empowerment we have left something vital out of the equation.
This has all become more salient with COVID, but the trend was already accelerating beforehand — much of what has intended to empower us has led to greater isolation, disconnection, and loneliness. The town square has disappeared and in its place we have streaming, social media, and gaming. The utopian promises of the early days of the internet have mostly been shown to not only be empty but increasingly anti-social.
In the absence of meaningful connection and belonging we now have political polarization, a return to old forms of fundamentalism, and the invention of new forms of dogma.
Personally I’ve spent countless hours covering up the ache in my heart by binging Netflix or finding myself furiously wrapped up in an online war that seemed as important as the final battle in Lord of the Rings. I’ve posted to exhaustion on twitter, facebook and instagram — longing to be seen, liked, admired and wanted.
Occasionally there was an insight, or a spark of connection, but mostly it had brought me to despair and disconnection from my own life. And the sad consequence of this despair is that it brought me back to social media, streaming, and gaming. It was a vicious cycle that became increasingly addictive over time.
It made me so miserable that I finally just cut most of it out of my life. I got rid of my smartphone, completely disconnected from social media, and started focusing on what I could actually connect with directly. I invested heavily in learning to know myself through meditation and the rest of my efforts I focused on the relationships closest to me — mostly with my spouse and my children. I was increasingly leaning towards living a quasi-monastic, luddite, hyper-localist life.
And then something changed. I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I was participating in an online Circling session over zoom and it suddenly hit me: this could actually make the world better. I am sitting on a zoom call, feeling connection and intimacy, and I’m leaving feeling like I am a better person and more excited about living my life.
Where the internet before created a feedback loop of increasing loneliness and despair, now I see the possibility of the internet actually creating a feedback loop of increasing prosocial behavior.
I don’t think Circling is the only way to do this. I actually see quite a few parallel practices that seem to be doing similar things, but it is certainly one that is working and has the potential to address the pandemic of disconnection and loneliness that is wreaking havoc in the modern world.
We don’t have to take it for granted that this is the way things are, that things are only going to keep getting worse and that we are all individually and collectively fucked. There are levers — particularly when wisely reinforced by technology — that can re-orient, re-balance, and reconnect us. Circling has the potential to be one of those levers.