HeartSphere Counseling, LLC Michele M. Preste, LMHC
Last post I talked about community and how individuals are becoming more isolated in spite of being more connected through social media and our many electronic devices. Today, I want to share more about what is happening to us individually because of this trend.
Last year, I read Lost Connections by Johann Hari. I recently revisited the book as part of my exploration of the word “community.” Hari explores the social causes of depression. One of the causes he discusses is “disconnection from other people.” In other words, the loss of connection. Hari met with many researchers who have made a career of studying loneliness. Here is a bit of what he found along the way.
The trend toward isolation and loneliness actually began as far back as the 1930’s. However, the isolation and loneliness trend has accelerated in recent years. In the ten year period from 1985 through 1994, involvement in community organizations decreased by 45%. Many years ago, when a person was asked about how many meaningful friends they had, the average number was three. In 2004, when that same question was asked, the most prevalent answer to the question was zero. In other words, more people have no close friends. This trend also applies to our interactions with family members; e.g., we eat with family members less often and we don’t go on vacations with family members as often as we used to in years past. These are disturbing trends and we are seeing the significant negative effects in our society in the news every day.
We humans are curious creatures because of some of our hard-wired behaviors we inherited from our ancestors. Two behaviors, in particular, seem very contradictory. We are hard-wired to remember the negative first and we are hard-wired for connection; i.e., community. Remembering the negative helped us to survive the dangers of our primitive world; for example, where was the Saber-toothed tiger den or the quicksand or the neighboring tribe’s village. In other words, remembering where the dangers were was a lifesaving skill. However, living in a community also helped us to survive. We had others to help us gather food or nurture us back to health when we were injured or sick. Let’s face it, when things go bump in the night, you really appreciate being surrounded by a crowd of people who can help fend off the dangers of the night. But, we now have less of this type of community because we have learned, over the years, that it is best for us to take care of ourselves rather than to depend on others.
This is a curious thing as researchers have found the more isolated (not in community) an individual is the greater the chance of getting sick. To be exact, three times more likely to get sick. In addition, more isolated people are 2 to 3 times more likely to die than individuals connected to their community. Being isolated and lonely has also been found to contribute to higher levels of cortisol in a person’s body which impacts sleep patterns and increases levels of fear, anxiety, and depression. An individual’s world view actually begins to change as the individual becomes harder to be around because of their negatives thoughts and fears. Isolated individuals become more judgmental, less trusting, and experience less love in their life. In effect, individuals become less tolerant of others.
The antidote for this trend is not more interaction via social media. These avenues of interaction only serve to promote more “anonymous” interactions. The antidote that is actually needed is an increase of face-to-face interactions with others. Because we are, by nature and thousands of years of conditioning, social creatures. This means we need to use all of our five senses to interact with people in a meaningful way. We just can’t do that with a computer and a screen.
I happen to agreed that there is a time and place for social media and learning the skills of being an independent person. But, not to the exclusion of connection and community. With connection and community, our personal experience and society’s experience as a whole becomes healthier.
So pick up the phone and make a date with a friend to meet for coffee, join a book club, learn something new by attending a class and making a conscious effort to makes friends with your classmates, get to know a co-worker on a more personal level, participate in a community volunteer program, or take time to say more than just “hello” to your neighbor. You may just surprise yourself at how good you start to feel both physically and emotionally. You may also notice that you have developed a stronger sense of community and a broader worldview. T
Thanks for giving my thoughts some consideration. If you have a chance, check out Johann Hari’s book Lost Connecions. He has quite a bit more to say about disconnection (lose of community) and reconnecting (creating community).
Next time, I will be talking about the wise word “tolerance” which has a significant correlation to community. Until then . . .
Live an inspired life.
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, 2018. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Community – we hear that word mentioned often; yet, how many of us really think about that word when we hear or read it. Looking the word up on the internet leads to definitions like same, common, shared by all or many, a group of people living in the same place, having particular characteristics in common, or a feeling of fellowship due to shared beliefs, interests, or goals.
We can actually belong to multiple communities at the same time. Where you live may be a community. The circumstances of your life may define a community to which you belong. What you believe and do may also place you in other communities.
Communities provide us with an identity. We feel comfortable and safe when we are “in community” because we share something in common. We are known and understood. Community helps to ground us.
Becoming disconnected from community is destabilizing. We may experience isolation, doubt, loss of identity, and loneliness. In effect, we can lose ourselves and, when that happens, depression and anxiety can creep into our lives.
In today’s world, we are more “connected” than ever with social media and cellphones, which, literally, makes us available 24/7. Being connected does not mean we have community. With community, we go beyond the mass communication of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that tells us “stuff” but does not allow us to read someone’s body language, connect eye-to-eye, hear the tone of a person’s voice, have an intimate conversation, or give witness to raw emotions and feelings.
We humans are hardwired for community. That is how we survived in our very early days on this planet. We helped each other with the hunting and gathering. As a community, we could better protect ourselves from the physical dangers of the world. We kept each other safe in the dark of the night. And, our face-to-face communication kept everyone “in the know.”
Our modern world has lessened the need for group hunting and gathering as our food is now in the confines of the four walls of a grocery store. Our homes provide us with dependable shelter, light, water, and heat. They also repel a large portion of our physical dangers. Our homes keep us safe in the night and separate us from our neighbors. Television, radio, cellphones, and social media keep us informed without ever having to meet face-to-face with another person. We are becoming so used to this separation that some of us have become very uncomfortable with talking to someone face-to-face!
Because of this disconnection, many of us have lost our connection with our Self. By hiding behind our television and computer screens, our cellphones, our social media, and the four walls (real or imagined) that separate us from others, we have become numbed to the need for connection . . . for community.
In the first sentence of the last paragraph, I purposely capitalized the “S” in self. I did this to differentiate “self” from “Self.” self represents the person who perceives little need for community . . . it represents isolation and disconnection. Self represents the person who sees the need for belonging . . . it represents connection and community.
self and Self are often at odds in our Western culture. In my next post, in two weeks, I will talk more about the interplay between self and Self and how self can become Self. So mull over this post, and until next time . . .
Live an inspired life,