BECAUSE YOU LIVE IN Western society in
the 21st century, you have a problem. If you were born 100 years
ago or 2000 or 50,000 years ago, you would probably be a member
of a small, tight-knit group of people you had known all your
life. Nobody would have moved away, and you would probably have
lived in the same place with the same group of people your entire
life. Everybody you knew as a child would still be around and
you would see them every day.
There would be, of course, no computers,
no televisions in fact, you would have very few forms
of entertainment other than interacting with people you knew
You would have moved to a natural rhythm.
No clocks, no alarm clocks, no time clocks or time pressures
or even calendars. No schedule books.
Times have changed, haven't they? Many
of the changes have created more loneliness and feelings of isolation
than could ever have been possible in the past.
Most of us don't even know the names of
our next door neighbors. You go off to work, away from your family,
away from your neighborhood. You live a separate life, even from
the people you live with. Almost all of us are in the same situation.
Our families have moved all over the country. We don't even know
where most of our school chums are. And we have more forms of
entertainment than we know what to do with, and all of them are
aggressively competing for our attention. New York Times Magazine
reported that 14.2 percent of Americans moved to another
community in one recent year. Only one fourth of U.S. teens expect
to live in their hometowns when they grow up.
Even during the little time we actually
spend with people we love, we are usually doing things like watching
television and movies we're together, but we're not getting
any closer to each other.
Being close to people used to be natural
and inevitable. You almost couldn't avoid having strong,
close ties with many people. Times have changed. If you are going
to have close relationships with people, you will have to do
it deliberately. The circumstances no longer make it inevitable.
What do you think happens when you isolate
an intensely social animal like a human being? You get depression,
anxiety, stress, alienation, loneliness, alcoholism, etc., without
ever recognizing that the source of these troubles is a lack
of connection. The depressed or anxious thoughts a person has
may be about work or self-esteem or about anything really, and
no doubt people have been having thoughts like that throughout
the ages. But what we no longer have is a tight-knit community
of people we can talk openly to, or just comfortably be with.
We don't have that buffering effect any more.
Feeling isolated, all by itself, causes
negative feelings, which can cause you to obsess about what might
be bothering you. But you may not correctly identify isolation
as the cause. You might think of many other things to be upset
about. But trying to fix those problems won't cure your
negative feelings. What will make you feel better is feeling
connected with others.
You can get closer to people, even
in this society. It can have an enormous impact on your health
and on your general feelings of happiness. I suggest you choose
one person for now. Someone you already know. Keep that person
in mind as you read about