January 9, 2014

Personal connections.

Can you have a personal connection with someone you've never met in the flesh?

It depends on how you define "personal" and "connections," but is it helpful to define these terms narrowly? Are people in danger of deluding themselves into thinking they have personal connections with celebrities and with people they write back-and-forth with on the internet?

Or is it good to think of personal connections broadly? For example, you might feel a personal connection to a writer who lived long ago, whom you cannot possibly meet. I feel that way about Henry David Thoreau. The personhood matters as it relates to the ideas, even if one cannot possibly meet the person. Much of reading works this way, I think.

In Christianity, there is much to the personal connection to Jesus. Not all religions have a central person with whom believers can bond, but what are we to make of the importance of Jesus in Christianity as it relates to this question of personal connections with individuals who are not physically present in our lives?

38 comments:

gadfly said...

Can you have a personal connection with someone you've never met in the flesh? Uh, no M'am.

MPH said...

My wife and I created a personal connection through the Web, probably because we never thought we would meet each other.

John Lynch said...

I have a picture of a dog that Palladian the commenter painted. I like it very much.

Gahrie said...

I always thought that having a "personal connection" without any interaction was a sign of delusion.

Bob Boyd said...

A large number of people working in the World Trade Center on 9/11/01 had a personal connection with Osama Bin Laden even though they never met him in the flesh.

Saint Croix said...

In Christianity, there is much to the personal connection to Jesus.

Here is Johnny Cash singing Depeche Mode:

Personal Jesus.

Michael K said...

The Discovery ID channel is running a series of stories of murders (I call that channel the "murder channel.") in which the perp and the victim met online or through Match.com. Yes, you can make a connection.

wildswan said...

Lots of people like the same books, such as Wuthering Heights, but if you asked them how they visualize Heathcliffe or the moors it isn't the same, and often not even the same genre of picture. Yet they might all be able to meet and talk about the book on some level because of a connection between the book, themselves and others. But it wouldn't be a personal connection unless their own persons came into it and that kind of connection is a mystery in my opinion and not obtainable on demand, 24/7, on the internet or anywhere else.



m stone said...

AA: ...but what are we to make of the importance of Jesus in Christianity as it relates to this question of personal connections with individuals who are not physically present in our lives?

We're talking two different worlds here. The spirit world operates differently than the physical world with tangible contact or interpersonal communication and attachment. Yet it is no less personal. Ask many Haitians and Africans who delve in or are exposed to spiritual darkness, as one example (both, it seems, have greater respect for the otherworldly).

Jesus is no less present in a true Christian's life than a spouse or close family member. The connection is on a different level only experienced by those who seek it.

Leon said...

my rule is we have something of a personal connection if i comment on a blog and get a response. so far you have only responded to one of my comments once...i cherish the memory but wish my comment wasn't such a poor one.

Otto said...

Besides prayer ,the short answer is the Holy Spirit that is indwelled in us and prayer . This will eventually leads you to the concept of the Trinity. That requires serious exegesis which is not the purpose of this forum.
Ann if you are truly are serious to find the answer l suggest you read the New Testament, Thomas Aquinas and CS Lewis.

Christy said...

You've never had a real world acquaintance think they had a personal connection to you that wasn't there? What have I been doing wrong?

traditionalguy said...

In the incarnated Jesus God became a man, died as a man, was resurrected as a man and ascended to heaven as a man and will return as a man. He is easy to know and is very good to His friends who accept that message.

Finding a way to deny those facts is the battlefield in the minds of men.

Most people refuse to accept that easy a way to become righteous with God and prefer to do it themselves.

Phil 3:14 said...

Where did this post come from?

Phil 3:14 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

I also agree with the sense of identification with a dead author. I know John Steinbeck as if we are twins.

David said...

"personal connections with individuals who are not physically present in our lives?"

Does it count if the person was once physically present in my life? If so, I have lots of these connections.

The Godfather said...

A personal connection with Jesus or with God (same thing for a Christian) is in a different category than feeling a personal connection with a writer, actor, painter, poet, philosopher, blogger, etc. Jesus was incarnated so that humans could feel a connection with God that was otherwise impossible for them. You may not believe that, but for those that do believe it, it is entirely different from feeling a personal relationship to a human being you've never met.

Henry said...

Ana Ng and I are getting old
And we still haven't walked in the glow of each other's majestic presence
Listen Ana hear my words
They're the ones you would think I would say if there was a me for you

Ann Althouse said...

Hi, Leon.

Ann Althouse said...

"Where did this post come from?"

Meade and I were talking about blogging. He took the narrow definition.

The Godfather said...

Leaving Jesus/God aside, the sense of having a personal connection to someone you don't actually know is fraught with risks. A good writer, actor, etc. makes connections with us that can be very important. I take great pleasure, for example, in reading almost anything written by George Orwell; I almost feel that I know him. But he died when I was a little child. I didn't know him. John Hinckley didn't know Jody Foster. It is important to keep reality in mind.

Henry said...

At a time when I was writing poetry in a sustained way, I found myself feeling a strong connection to certain dead poets through the writing. It was that sense of "oh, I get it; I get what you're doing. And therefore you get me." That's a pretty strong connection. It's something we hope from our closest friends and relatives.

Almost at the same time I found there were other poets who were brilliant in a way that totally precluded connection. Dylan Thomas, for example. The writing is dense and vivid and hallucinatory and totally mysterious to the way I was trying to write -- and thus how I was thinking and perceiving.

Because this connection is through literature, it suggest that one can form a personal connection to a fictional character, or even an abstract form. Analytically, one might call this an aesthetic connection, but aesthetic connections are profoundly emotional and affirming. How is this not personal?

Bob R said...

When all of the stuff about Manti Teo came out I realized the were several people I had a "personal connection" to online that I had never met in person. These are people with whom I'd had considerable back and forth interactions. While this isn't the same as having contact in the flesh, it's definitely a personal form of contact. I've traded correspondence, pictures, audio files with these people. Yes, something is missing from these interactions, but there are also ways in which these interactions are much deeper than, say, the people I know casually at work.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

A quarter century ago my wife and I, who had met twice in a professional situation (absolutely no "sparks"), ended up falling in love after about two years of correspondence, the old fashioned way.

We still have those letters and it's fascinating to review the gradual path by which our "personal connection" unfolded.

Bob R said...

To be more responsive to the question - I think that even with a narrow definition of "personal connection" an on line interaction can fit as long as there is one-on-one communication. It's the difference between talking to a conference speaker over lunch or answering a question in a Q&A section of a lecture.

A related question - to which students do you have a "personal connection?"

sunsong said...

Can you have a personal connection with someone you've never met in the flesh?

Absolutely.

William said...

Some writers connect with you in ways that have nothing to do with their talent as writers. Faulkner has, deservedly, a higher reputation than Kurt Vonnegut, but I liked Vonnegut far better. He was a companion soul. I'm sure that if we had ever met, we'd have hit it off right away and we'd have been best friends forever.

eric said...

We are all minds surrounded by flesh and bone.

Our minds figure out how to meet other minds through the senses. We smell, touch, taste, hear and see one another.

The internet allows us to hear and see each other. That's two of the five senses in which our minds can meet.

I don't see why our interactions are any less because we haven't had touch, taste and smell.

I experience other minds, like yours, Professor, via the internet, probably way more than someone like Helen Keller ever could even if she were in a room with you.

Yet Helen Keller wasn't any less of a person because her mind had trouble experiencing personal connections with others due to her lack of senses.

Mountain Maven said...

"Jesus is no less present in a true Christian's life than a spouse or close family member. The connection is on a different level only experienced by those who seek it."

Amen to that.

Freeman Hunt said...

There was a time when I took the broad view, but many, many years ago I switched to the narrow view, experience having been a good teacher. However, I do think online connections that then transfer into offline then become personal connections. That said, even knowing that rationally, there are plenty of people I know only online who I feel personally connected to.

As,for authors, yes, there are authors who I feel that connection with, but I'm also very aware that in person I would be unlikely to feel that way.

Others have already addressed what I think is the difference with Jesus. That's a wholly different thing. That's seeing the palace in Till We Have Faces.

rcommal said...

Many years enough ago now, I put forth the notion that as with the rule for putting out surveys, 2-3% is, in reality, a very good return indeed, and certainly no more than one could expect, at best.

rcommal said...

I consider myself very, very lucky indeed to have, IRL, a smaller percentage of virtual people who became not just real people, but real friends. And in some cases (more t.k.), to the point that my kid and husband consider them friends as well. They've met them.

rcommal said...

It's more complicated, I surely DO know, than this, but still:

If it's truly possible to consider people, or make people, enemies via online, then how on earth can it not be possible to discover friends online and convert some subset, at least, into people met and enjoyed and valued in real life? This is not rocket science--though I will grant it requires taking some sort of risk, I suppose.

In my case, I have found it to be so worth it.

FWIW...

Humperdink said...

""Jesus is no less present in a true Christian's life than a spouse or close family member. The connection is on a different level only experienced by those who seek it."

Amen to that."

Let me second that amen. Clearly on a different level. You must seek Him.

betamax3000 said...

Removing Jesus from the Question: I Used To Think So, Now Not So Much. I've Seen Simulations That Were Pretty Good, However.

CR said...

Most interesting... A dear friend died last October after a four year struggle with metastatic breast cancer. But I still have a personal connection with my friend through memories of our friendship.

So also with Thoreau, in reading his memories of time spent on Walden Pond, his memories become mine and I can develop a personal connection to him.

So also with Christ. When I read the Gospels, which are memoirs of the Apostles (their memories of Jesus, filtered through their understanding of Him), then I too am able to forge a personal connection with Christ.

Memory is the key. And imagination, which is memory's kin.

Joe said...

It's a one sided connection, but is it really a connection or simply a complex delusion?