For the past 15 years, Joe Beckman has been working to bring back “human connection” to students, teachers, kids and adults in an ever digital world. Beckman brought his message to PCM through a series is conversations with students, staff and community members Jan. 4 and 5.
Beckman started by telling a story about a trip he took to Chicago. While helping those less fortunate, he was riding on the train when a woman entered with a shopping cart full of her belongings. As a hush fell over the once ruckus cabin, Beckman decided to approach the woman, putting his arm around her and providing human contact that she so sorely needed.
The woman, who rested her head on his chest, began to cry, soft but meaningful tears. Beckman sat with her until the next stop when she arose and pushed her cart out of the door.
While he thinks about the woman a lot, he also thinks about what that interaction would be like more than 20 years later.
“Maybe the right question in 2021 isn’t would we do something when we know where the right thing to do is but rather, would we notice it, see it, witness it in the first place,” Beckman said. “In my experience, the truth is, we are missing that right now.”
It is there he introduced the power of human connection. When thinking of how he could make an impact, bringing attention to how people interact and the repercussions of that, he formed a base he could build off of to hopefully address issues that are growing each and every day in society.
“What is the biggest issue in our culture and society that I may be able to find some sort of value on — Human Connection Matters,” Beckman said. “It is the foundation on all of the impact in the world, it is the oxygen for our souls and in 2021, it feels like in 2021 it is slipping from our hands, even before the pandemic.”
Statistically, 80 percent of Americans own a smartphone and each day on average a person checks a screen 84 times. For eighth graders, on average, 8.5 hours are spent looking at a screen. Also, the average age of depression has lowered to just 14 and a half years old.
“Smartphones started in 2007 and by 2011 the market was saturated,” Beckman said. “Also when you look at the studies anxiety is going up, self-harm, depression and suicide — mental health spikes — human connection going down.”
Through his work, Beckman is getting under the surface of what is happening by trying to create a stronger connection between people. To do that, he has three big ideas: Just Look Up, Know ThySelf; Share Thy Story and Chains and Links.
Just Look Up
Grabbing his cell phone he asked, “These pocket rectangles, are they tools or are they companions?”
If it is a tool, it is used when there is a problem, then put it away. If it is a companion, time is spent with it, there are feeling for it and a feeling of “can’t live without it.”
“As adults, we need to check ourselves and ask has this device become a tool or is it a companion,” Beckman said. “Adults need to be modeling what we want young people to be doing.”
Often smart devices are handed to kids with little to no conversation on how they are to be used. When no instruction is given, it can lead to unintended consequences for screen time and content viewed.
“Then we say, ‘can you believe these kids, they are on the phones eight hours a day, man that is crazy, they are addicted.’ But we have never trained them on how to use this technology,” Beckman said.
To address screens, Beckman has a Caveman Screen Plan, a screen-time template. It includes 1. non-negotiables, hard and fast rules for screen use; 2. sacred spaces, a few places where technology goes to the side; and 3. genius revealed, giving kids an opportunity to teach what they know on the screen and learn from it.
“A lot of time kids are pretty open and honest and not always going to do whatever they can to get more time on the device,” Beckman said.
Know Thy Self, Share Thy Story
For the second big idea, Beckman said families need to get clear on values by finding the top values for life, use them to help shape decisions and most importantly, find out if they are living in line with those values.
“We as adults often ask students and don’t look at ourselves in the mirror,” Beckman said.
The second part of the idea, Share Thy Story, asks adults to share a piece of themselves to connect with the kids.
“One of the greatest ways to build a connection is through story — story physiologically is one of the strongest things to compel, kids hungry to hear them,” Beckman said. “Stories when people fell short, were embarrassed, the not easy stories to tell — important for people to see as not a perfect person on a pedestal but that mess up and screw up and when things got messy.”
Places to find stories can come from the acronym FORD: family, occupation, recreation and dreams.
“Kids are hungry to hear this from us,” Beckman said. “It dissipates that gap, and kids see us as a little bit more human.”
Chains and Links
The final big idea is the concept of chains and links. Chains of human connection so when, not if, students get caught up in the undertow of messiness, there are people there to bring them back. Links, making small differences along the way to promote connections.
“Every kid needs a chain made up of multiple links from multiple people, from multiple facets of their lives. From family members to teachers to administrators to youth pastors to sometimes complete strangers,” Beckman said. “Those moments of human connection matter. Those acts of kindness make a difference. Those selfless moments of compassion, they serve as a link. If we get enough links, we can create a ton of chains and if we get a ton of chains, we can save a ton of students.”
During his school conversations with elementary and middle schoolers, he shared his Difference Maker presentation. The focus of Difference Maker is to find what do the students want to be remembered for, what is the legacy they are going to leave. 10 percent are makers, 10 percent are takers and 80 percent are fakers, how can the students work to be makers in their lives.
At the high school, Beckman spoke about three phases: self-worth, resilience and human connection. He discussed how to find what students need to do for self-care and for caring for others.
“This is the start of our work with Joe,” superintendent Michelle Havenstrite said. “I am super excited.”
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or email@example.com