Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN described the current culture as experiencing an “epidemic of loneliness.” George Barna discovered that, even with the rise of social media over the past decade, the numbers of people who self-report being lonely has doubled. Dallas Willard spun this descriptive phrase, “Now loneliness is loose on the landscape.”
I would venture to say that loneliness also precipitates a myriad of other cultural maladies. In our attempts to be known we manufacture socially acceptable identities further heaping shame on who we truly are. Social scientists have documented the detriments of a relationally void life, trumpeting the social and physical health benefits of even a few close relationships. And how often have we been victimized by mass shootings in our communities perpetrated by the “loner”, the one everyone thought was just fine, though a little reclusive?
What’s so paradoxical about this “epidemic” is that loneliness has no direct correlation with the numbers of people you encounter each day. You can be relatively isolated from others but still maintain a relationship or two that energizes. You can be absolutely surrounded by people throughout your day and have a soul devoid of life-giving passion or connection.
Loneliness has little to do with how many people you know and much more to do with your willingness to be known. But, being known taps into some very deep fears. Will I be accepted for who I am? Will I accept others for who they are? Will I allow myself to be vulnerable even if I’ve been hurt in the past? Will the relationship endure? What will it mean for me if it doesn’t?
Whereas with other epidemics we encourage people to vaccinate themselves and isolate the hosts, with an epidemic of loneliness the only remedy is to engage; openly, compassionately, with holy patience, and steadfast love.
A few practices that you might consider for this week:
-If you have a friend or neighbor who leans toward isolation, stop by, make a call, somehow connect.
-If you know someone navigating a loss in their life, ask them about it. Then, just listen.
-Look into people’s eyes when you pass them.
-Before you go off on someone, consider what might be behind their behavior. There is usually a back-story that, if known, would make a difference in your response.
-Communicate with an aging grandparent or parent.
-Rather than walking by the row of cubicles at work, poke your head in a few and see how your co-workers are doing.
-Identify the person sitting alone, at school or work, and ask if they would like some company.
-Ask questions rather than tell. It’s surprising what you find out, if you only ask.
It’s Monday. Choose one or more of the above list. Create you own list. Be part of the cure for the epidemic of loneliness. Peace. Kai