The Long View

We love connections

Lessons we learned at ‘Camp Sparrow’

By Jim Sparrow
Fall is a mixed bag of emotions. Leaves morph into colors of gold, orange and red, crisp afternoons beckon for sweatshirts and cider, and one of my favorite activities hits stride — snuggling under a quilt with my wife on a football Sunday afternoon. Fall also has the dubious task of setting the stage for winter. Winter is charming at first, but quickly it becomes cold, oppressive and bleak.

Fall also brings the holiday season: Halloween, Thanksgiving, the December holidays of Christmas and Hanukah and, finally, New Year’s. Each holiday means activity, fun and a chance to connect with family, friends and a slower more purposeful life, if only for a few days. It has always felt to me that winter feels so oppressive not just due to the cold, but because it lacks holidays, especially the types of holidays that make gathering and interacting a normal part of the season.

Does it seem to you that the holidays are the only times we spend connecting, and living in ways that too often seem forgotten? I believe that when we remember how good it is to connect, we commit ourselves to trying to change our lives to incorporate “holidays” all the time.

I think we have reached a point where connection has achieved a renewed level of priority — not connecting through electronics, computers and technology, but touching and laughing face to face. The great movement to reconnect through redeveloped urban spaces, cool downtowns and vibrant public activity is not being led by a desire for cost savings or rising gas prices, if we are honest. It is being led by our rediscovery of the joys of interacting with our world. We have begun to realize that we crave talking and interacting with people of all types in person as we shop, socialize and work instead of virtually. I find it interesting that as technology has made it easier and faster to be somewhere or experience something virtually we have rediscovered cities and community. While it is true that one can start a revolution virtually as was done in Egypt, it was the act of gathering together physically as a huge community in the squares of Cairo and other cities that actually brought about change. Technology can spread ideas, but they are still essentially about people and the human experience.

I recently read that reintroducing children to nature by having them outside playing in the woods or a field greatly reduces ADHD and other attention challenges that seem to have become epidemic. Could it be that we have discovered that we are connected to our world, its people, animals and natural places and that when we disconnect we don’t function well or at least don’t feel whole?

About six years ago my wife and I tried an experiment brought about by frustration and disgust. We have five children, and at that time they were all between the ages of 10 and 15. One late spring afternoon I walked into the kitchen and tried to ask a question for any one of three children sitting in the room. I was ignored due to the distraction of the computer, one on a cell phone and another watching television while texting. None were talking to each other, and no one responded to my questions. I became increasingly angry when the house phone rang and the person closest ignored its ring because they were on the computer. That was it. I told my wife that I had had it and wanted to employ what has affectionately been labeled “Camp Sparrow” in the annals of family history. I came home from work at lunch the next day and disconnected and removed every television and computer in the house. I also turned cell phone access off for the next three months. I left the satellite radio in the family room and a list of rules for the summer. When they arrived home, they discovered what to them felt like a war camp. There was no use of television, cell phones, computers or video games for the summer; they were gone. (I had moved all to off-site storage). They were free to watch television if they went to a friend’s house and I was not forbidding going to a movie, but we were done for the summer. They could listen to music, catch a baseball game on the radio or read, play a game, go outside or play with friends. This situation was met with anger and hostility — for three days. Then something happened. Once the “detox” began, the family actually adjusted and enjoyed the summer. It was the best summer I can remember. The kids actually talked to one another, fighting was less, they read and played games (including making up new ones) and discovered that spending the afternoon and evening outside was fun and magical. Years later they still talk about “Camp Sparrow” as the best summer they spent together and reminisce about what they did and how it felt.

During the holidays, don’t let the opportunity to connect remain just a special event. Make it a habit. It’s catching on as we rebuild our downtown and our neighborhoods and rediscover our civic pride. Make it a gift to yourself. It’s a precious gift that will keep giving through out the year and your life.

Jim Sparrow

Jim Sparrow is executive director of Arts United, the third-oldest united arts fund in the United States and the second largest arts council in Indiana.

Posted: Thu, 12/01/2011 - 3:50 pm
Last updated: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 3:12 pm