Tag Archives: society

loneliness is embedded in society

Politics of loneliness

loneliness is embedded in society

loneliness by Alice Popkorn (https://flic.kr/p/a6RWak)

We have a new ministerial post in Britain: the minister of loneliness. Tracey Crouch was recently appointed to continue the work of Jo Cox and following the recommendations of a cross-party report. This is a positive move to address a problem that is embedded within a society that has championed individualism at others’ cost, a rat-race, and a ‘me-first’ model of economics (The Guardian editorial, 20th Jan, 2018). Happiness does not emerge from such a context, instead isolation for many, with very real effects upon health.

Of course this approach is not just evident in the marketplace and the workplace. It has been encouraged in schools where grades are the measure of success, and being better than everybody else is a driver. The reality is that no-one is better than anyone else, and on continually feeling that they must look a certain way, be on a certain social media channel, have certain material things and strive to be better than the others, the pressure builds. This is one of the main reasons for the ever-growing issue of childhood and teen ill-health. Loneliness is almost certainly in the mix. How lonely must it be to always be thinking about oneself?

“You are no better than anyone else and no one is better than you

~ John Wooden

Yet this is a society of our making. We must all wake up to this and build structures that promote collectivism and connection in line with our design to co-operate. It will not be enough to try and minimise suffering downstream by picking up the pieces. We need top down change in attitudes and beliefs, because what we are doing at the moment is not working. The next generation needs this desperately. They need to be prepared for the modern world: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration — the 4Cs.

Suffering is part of life. How we address our suffering and support others who suffer determine what it is actually like. Suffering affords opportunities to learn and transform experiences. To try and wrap people up in cotton wool will not work. Giving them practical tools to roll with life’s ups and downs together with know-how, creating opportunities to pursue a purpose, to master chosen skills and feel a sense of autonomy are all part of a healthy, evolving society.

Those who are familiar with the scientific literature on loneliness know about the biological effects. There are several key points to consider. Firstly, it is the perception of loneliness that is the governing factor. Secondly, in the case of perceived loneliness, we switch at a gene level to being inflammatory. This makes sense because being isolated means that if we are bitten by the sabre-tooth tiger, our healing responses are ready to go. That’s basic biology at play. If we perceive ourselves to be part of a community and connected, we are pro-viral because we are more likely to pass viruses to on another. Great system, but being pro-inflammatory for a prolonged period has health consequences: e.g./ chronic pain, depression–the two largest global health burdens.

Tracey Crouch has a job of huge importance. This is not just about people who live alone. This is about how society functions to enable people to connect with purpose, to support and trust each other and to share a planet. Now that’s a job worth doing well!

A brief note on loneliness and pain

Chronic pain is often described to me as being a cause of loneliness for several reasons. Firstly because of the limits that the pain can seem to impose until the person learns skills and has tools to change his or her experience, and secondly because no-one else can actually feel that pain.

Pain is a shared experience however. Each person will suffer their own pain of course, and for different reasons, yet it is a conscious phenomena that most will feel. Being that it is unavoidable, it becomes essential that people understand pain so that they can address their needs with effect.

One of many actions that can be chosen and committed to, is that of making connections and ensuring meaningful interactions as often as possible. These practices and others can easily be interwoven into life as a means to address the effects of loneliness.


Learn from the Olympics

Whilst we have witnessed some magnificent feats of athleticism, there is always an opportunity for humanity to learn from the Olympics. The humble winners stand out but of course behind each victorious performance is dedication, focus and pure hard work. Nothing is achieved without effort and practice regardless of talent. Let us practice and encourage effort.

There is often a desire to believe in natural talent, and although an individual requires a certain aptitude, without effort there will be limited success. We must work for all that is worthwhile and encourage this attitude. Telling a youngster that they are brilliant or gifted will not necessarily encourage the right attitude. Let us encourage the right attitude.

In particular, watching sports that do not receive the coverage of others is a pleasure. The Olympics was an opportunity to see athletes at the top of their game, performing on the biggest stage. They took their opportunity by mustering every cell in their body, fuelled by a passion and a desire to achieve their dream. The dream is always a medal, but there is a huge chunk of pride that must be taken from being there and taking part. This is also something to consider, being part of something that by and large is positive and inspiring. Let us encourage participation.

This last point is important on a number of levels including the health of society. Witnessing the Olympians will hopefully inspire people from all backgrounds to participate in activities far and wide. There are many so sports to choose from, suiting different individual strengths. Society and policy makers can take note and create opportunities, regarding the benefits of more and more people engaging in meaningful activities. We have land, water and many facilities. Making best use on the back of what has been in Rio over the last few weeks and with what is to come with the Paralympics.

Let us use the examples we have seen and will see soon to inspire us to work hard, to be humble, to support each other and create a better society for all.