A while back, I wrote that Dr. Will Miller was kind enough to send me a copy of his book Refrigerator Rights. Between the book club books and other books and staying current with Time, it's taken me a while to get it read, but I finished it yesterday.
Written in conjunction with his colleague Dr. Glenn Sparks, Dr. Will makes a compelling case for one reason behind our societal ills: the loss of refrigerator rights.
He defines refrigerator rights as that certain level of comfort and familiarity you have in some people's homes, and vice versa. I.e., do you feel at home enough to open their fridge and help yourself to a cool beverage? Do they feel equally as comfortable in your home? We feel this most often with family members (I opened my sister's fridge when we were at their house in Friday, in fact) but there are some friendships that, with time, become as close.
Dr. Will and Dr. Sparks believe that we are rapidly losing these types of close relationships, whether family or friends, and that the loss of such a support system is harmful both to ourselves and to our society. They believe the cause of this is threefold:
1) Frequent relocation. How many of us live in the town in which we grew up? I do, but that was after over a decade of living elsewhere. How many of us have family members in the same town? These are people that helped shape our personalities and know details of our childhoods and our pasts. Refrigerator rights come with common knowledge and experiences, and frequent moves do not allow time for the development of deep relationships.
2) Extreme individualism. I think most of us admire someone who is "independent" and "self-reliant." That's how we're raised--to be able to take care of ourselves. My Dad occasionally expresses happiness and a sense of pride that the three of us girls are so independent (although he always cautioned me that career shouldn't be the complete focus of a balanced life). However, personal independence comes with a price when we grow so focused on our careers that we ignore our personal relationships. There are times that we need to turn to someone for advice and support, and if we don't have such people to turn to, we feel isolated and alone.
3) Media, especially electronic. There are so many distractions out there: TV, movies, video games, the computer...we fill our spare time with such distractions, at the expense of face-to-face time with family and friends. We are unable to build lasting and deep relationships without putting some time and effort into it.
Our social isolation means that we are unable to get support when we need it, and we are becoming an increasingly anxious and depressed society. It's a vicious circle, because as we become more and more withdrawn from social interaction, we are shunning the very relationships we need to ease our feelings of alienation. Such relationships also help us grow, as they are the ones that can provide constructive criticism, and get us "back on the path" when we go astray.
Dr. Will makes a compelling case. I tried to read it with myself and my behaviors in mind, and I am guilty of much of this. I have a few questions for him, such as while I don't see my family every day, when we get together, we are all very close and loving. And while I'm very much a loner, I'm also very content and fairly anxiety-free. What does this say about me? Hmm.
One of the things I really liked about Dr. Will's book is that he included many examples of his own life and own behaviors. He readily admits to having to work on some aspects of his own personality, such as irritability and a quick temper. He has an attitude of "I'm not perfect, either, no one is, so stop obsessing!" It's somewhat comforting to know that he doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but believes that there is always room for improvement, and that growing and learning as a person is something to strive for.
He seems to be a genuinely kind and decent person, and I suspect that he'd eventually get refrigerator rights in our home! Thanks for the book, Dr. Will. You're a mensch!