Fully 35% of the population of the United States over 40, considers themselves lonely. I don’t know what that adds up to in millions but let’s just say the number is daunting. Many of them do not have even one person they can go to in a jam. Were we always this solitary?
I am reading a book by David Brooks, “The Second Mountain”. Intriguingly I have asked several people what they think of this erudite columnist for the New York Times and I get strange responses. Arch conservatives consider him a sellout. Others reason he is just another talking head. I find his insights to be provocative regardless of philosophical bent. It dawned on me how much people just tune out parts of the world.
In his book he discerns between community and tribalism. Community is a connection based on mutual affection. Tribalism is based on mutual hatred. In our efforts to stoke individualism we close doors not open them. Basically if we only surround ourselves with like minders we keep narrowing our spheres of influence and communication. Pretty soon we can’t find anyone of our ilk or if we do the conversation becomes so stale as to not even be worthwhile.
I remember years ago when my mom was dying. I came in from Arizona to visit her. One afternoon while she was taking a nap, I took a walk in the little village where I grew up. Let’s say there were fifty or sixty homes in the vicinity. As I traversed the South Drives and Heights Roads, I could tell you the name of every person who had lived in each house. An anecdote about that family or a particular personality cropped up continually. Could anyone do that today?
We no longer need to write hard copy with pen and ink. We can email or text and the better the shorthand, the faster I can get this over with. Thoughts are now in acronyms. LMAO. TTFN. WTF. Emoticons take the place of prose. Everything designed for sweet and simple. No sense in wasting all that emotion. We have streamlined society.
Today, people go weeks and months without ever having contact with another human being. Order your coffee or lunch by phone. Swipe your card. Never look up. Eye contact verboten. Linger over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine? What are you nuts? I am a busy person and so much to do. Why waste the time?
We don’t go to the store. Amazon Prime will soon get it to you by this afternoon after your internet order. Probably by drone so you don’t have to see the delivery person. Your taxi or bus will soon be driverless. Golf courses will equip carts with music. Why? Who wants to waste time with meaningless conversation. I can listen to a podcast between shots. That sounds of nature bullshit is way overrated. I have to be more productive in my spare time.
We play video games instead of Monopoly or Risk. I don’t want to go to exercise class. I will get my own personal trainer. Better yet I can hop on my Peloton and become wired to someone hundreds of miles away whom I have never met, much less had a meaningful conversation with.
The most existential question in all of this, If I don’t have to care about anyone else but me who the hell is going to eventually worry about me when I can’t? Do I have any meaning or worth? Hmmm, if I don’t, why should I go on living? Suicides have jumped 35% since 2000. Any wonder?
We don’t trust our institutions. The Church, the government, and corporate America like Boeing? If there is no God why do we need ethics? If politicians are corrupt why obey the laws? If the bottom line is more important than integrity then I better change my ways before I get left behind.
This may sound hyperbolic. I think not. The more individual we become the more estranged we are from human emotion. Empathy, pathos, charity, brotherhood, motherhood, all become collateral damage.
I can attest to Mr.Brooks poignant observation that there is no greater wellspring of joy than when one gives of themselves. When you have made someone’s day better by smile or a helping hand you can’t help but feel good inside. Correction. Not good but fantastic. You have made them feel worthy of consideration in our thoughtless world.
Recently I have had a long talk with a friend who tragically lost his brother. I also had a casual acquaintance break down when for some reason he decided to tell me of a horribly dysfunctional upbringing. I had a woman in hospice who finally sobbed after being a rock for her failing husband for 6 long years.
There is nothing special about putting yourself out there for others. We are social beings and we all need a shoulder to cry on. Our loneliness is self imposed and so unnecessary. If you are particularly feeling bad, put down all the electronics and head for Starbucks. There is someone, somewhere that just needs a friendly face or a welcoming pose. Sorry about this falderal but get used to it. I am just not going to leave you alone.
Ted The Great
One third of those from the age of 45-63 are single. You can be lonely in groups if you are unable to feel worthwhile.
Cries for help. People who become more withdrawn and unwilling to go out socially are actually screaming for help.
Loneliness affects our heart rate, immune system and overall longevity. Today’s living environments with large apartment buildings or tract housing contribute to a sense of isolation.
There is a Jekyll and Hyde side to technology. It makes it easier for people to anonymously say pretty nasty things. On another note the spontaneity of reaching out to an old friend has its rewards. Go figure.
“We don’t trust our institutions. The Church, the government, and corporate America like Boeing? If there is no God why do we need ethics?” Those who do good in the hope of reward (such as enjoying eternal life in the right place), and those who refrain or are deterred from doing wrong out of fear of punishment (to include going to an eternal hell), are fundamentally bad people. If it takes rewards and punishment to make someone act in a moral and ethical way, admittedly we are all better off for it, but the fact remains that the person has a bad heart.
Unless someone can prove that ethics and morality come from God (which one?), I think it makes more sense to believe that we have derived systems of ethics from human experience. It would be difficult to engage in commerce if lying didn’t have consequences. Living in peace with your next door neighbor would be difficult if both parties didn’t understand that refraining from doing harm works both ways.
I think you get the drift. And if the Catholic Church is an exemplar of morality and ethics in light of the decades long, widespread scandal associated with priest pedophiles and cover-ups, I don’t want any part of it as a role model.
I do struggle with the concept. I have been Catholic all my life but am debating it at the present moment. Not my faith but my religion. We wring our hands over Notre Dame but is it over the building as part of the skyline of Paris or because it is the center of religion. I fear the loss of ethics and I guess by extension religion because we just continue to push all semblance of morality or maybe more importantly decency. Anything goes. Can’t be a good outcome .
Thank you as always
I thoroughly enjoyed this installment,Ted, and couldn’t agree more. I recall a cartoon of a woman at a funeral for her husband and very few people were there. She said, I can’t imagine what happened, he had 500 Facebook friends. We are losing the understanding and appreciation for presence and vulnerability. You have always been a friend who provokes deeper thoughts and conversation. And I appreciate and love that about you.
I used to go to Saint Patrick’s with Kevin as my Big Bro was fighting it. We were having breakfast one time and he said “you were more distracted than usual during mass (imagine that:).”
I said “No, not at all. I was thinking of how incredible for people to create this, based on nothing they had ever seen- faith.”
A 1,000 cracks in the dam get us to where we are today.