Hands-Free Revolution: Being Present with Those Who Matter

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This is not a post asking you to delete Facebook, throw your phones away and be a social recluse, but merely my thoughts on how this increasingly-connected world is not connecting us to what matters.

As someone who practically grew up with social media (MSN Messenger, Friendster, Blogspot, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram – I lived through all their births), it was as much a part of my life as the more physical aspects of it like learning how to cycle and tie my shoelaces etc.

However, as I threw myself into work the past few years, there was one thing that I realised I was missing out on: time with my loved ones. All of us were busy so it was normal to go for days without a proper sit-down conversation. We always made sure to have dinner together at least once in 2 weeks and since it would be too taxing to cook, we would eat out.

During one of these dinners recently, as our food arrived and we started to eat, my Mum was busy sending pictures of her food to her Whatsapp group chat with the mosque ladies! And it wasn’t just sending pictures, she was absent from our conversation and laughing while her eyes were glued to her phone! Like in the video above, I was the only one who refused to take my phone out at the table while everyone had their phone right next to their plates.

That image hit me hard. My mother was the last person in the family to get a smartphone and the last to learn how to SMS, much less use Whatsapp. And now here she is, uploading our dinner on Facebook! Growing up, she was always the glue to the family. She would call us up regularly to check on us, schedule dinners and make sure we would sit at the dinner table and have proper human interactions.

Unfortunately, as teenagers, my brother & I were swift to reschedule, cunning when it came to getting away from the dinner table early so we could watch our laptops & computer games like zombies. It was only now when I was trying to tell my mother something and she wasn’t paying attention that it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Yes, it’s retribution but also a wake-up call!

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would turn his WHOLE body to face someone when someone spoke to him. That is respect and attention and adab. These days, we would hardly look at the person speaking to us, forget about turning our whole body to them!

Being Present and Giving Your Fullest Attention

I’ve since tried to be more present to those who matter, in hopes that it would rub off on them and eventually inshaAllah strengthen our bonds. I’ve been reading Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters and it’s been a very enjoyable and necessary read. Enjoyable because she gives lots of tips for us to live hands-free (without being connected to our phones and other devices). Necessary because she shares stories of how she lost out on a lot previously with her children and it’s necessary for us to realize what we are missing out on.

In one of my favourite lines in the book, she says, “Each time I told my children, “Not now, Mom’s busy,” my chance for a meaningful, joy-filled life edged farther away.”

It highlights how relationships are weakened not by grand decisions to break someone’s heart but in the little things and small decisions we make minute-to-minute that eventually results in someone feeling unimportant, trivial and taken for granted. In a recent study done by students in NTU, they found that 95 per cent of the 250 parents polled regret spending too much time at work during their children’s formative years!

It is necessary now more than ever, to ensure that we give our parents, children, spouses, friends and even our religious obligations their due as they all have rights over us, and these rights far outweigh our desires to be distracted by the latest Facebook update or new meme on 9Gag.

When you try to work 16-hour days, rewind with 2 hours on mindless scrolling on your mobile, you are missing out on life. You miss out on what truly matters; and what you miss, you can never get back.

This is the same for relationships with humans as it is with God. If you are constantly distracted, how can you be in focus while in prayer or while reciting the Qur’an? You cannot. Your mind is used to being numb and being entertained that when you are made to stand for a mere 5 minutes, it struggles to think of the One that matters most.

Being distracted harms not just our relations with our friends and family, but it harms us spiritually as well.

One new thing you can implement this coming week is to just put your phone away during mealtimes – no excuses. Start small and inshaAllah we can slowly lose our dependence on our devices. Trust me, your family members will appreciate whatever little bit of attention that you shower on them, especially your parents and your children.

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