Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Spirituality of Human Contact

"Side by Side"
- on a wilderness trail -

Prompted by Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods, a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times warned: “Don’t buy groceries from a robot.” The article went on to talk about the growing trend toward increasing automation not only in grocery stores but in most arenas in which we might conduct business everyday, in malls, at a gas station, even at restaurants and coffee shops.

Beside shopping online, many of us now use the "self-checkout" counter at a store, thus eliminating the need for cashiers and nowadays there are a growing number of restaurants where you can order a meal using a computer at your table and then pick up your food from a “personalized cubby” located inside the restaurant without ever having to talk to a waiter or waitress.

The Times article suggested that our ever-decreasing contact with other human beings can have serious repercussions for our well-being.

As I think about my own everyday routine, I look forward to interacting with the always-friendly cashiers at “Trader Joes” and with the “baristas” at our local Starbucks who know me by name and even know what I usually order before I even ask for it. I would very much miss this kind of contact if it all became automated and I had to deal with robots instead.

There are many people who think of themselves as “individuals” separated and apart from other human beings; but the truth is that we are all dynamically interconnected and so when we have “contact” with other people (not just machines or computers) we are, in fact, in touch with the very core of what it means to be human. We need this kind of human contact for our spiritual and emotional health and welfare.

I am reminded of something the Dalai Lama (who is a scientist) once said:

There is a reasonably substantial body of evidence
in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and other fields
suggesting that even from the most rigorous scientific perspective
we are all connected.
Interdependence is a key feature of human reality.

I am also reminded of a wise observation once made by Benedictine monk and teacher, David Steindl-rast:

We are born as individuals and we become persons, laboriously so.
We become persons through our relationships with others.
Interrelationship is what defines you as a person.

When I talk with the cashier at the market or order a meal from a waiter at a restaurant,  I foster my sense of interdependence and I feel more fully human. In fact, I become more and more a “person.”

So, I think it may be good advice to heed that warning in the New York Times article: "Don’t buy groceries from a robot.”

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