The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18
There is a contagion occurring – everyone is feeling some of it right now. And it is not Covid-19. Instead, it is a sense of loneliness which is exacerbated by social distancing, isolation and staying at home. God recognized that humans were social beings in Genesis 2:18. We need each other.
According to studies, somewhere around 25% of American adults are lonely. Cigna, a health insurer, said one-fifth of respondents said they rarely or never feel close to people. This is true in other countries as well according to Vivek Murthy, M.D., a former Surgeon General of the U.S., in his book Together.
Written before Covid-19, Together has some answers for what may come in the area of mental and social health due to increased loneliness. Murthy admitted he was unprepared for the profound need of companionship by his patients when he got out of medical school.
“Quite simply, human relationship is as essential to our well-being as food and water.” Wow!
We all feel it, if you think about it. I miss being with my worship team at church, and Zoom with small groups or with close friends only takes you so far. As one friend said: “I need a hug now and then.”
There are three dimensions to loneliness, the first being intimacy, which is a longing for a close confidante or intimate partner that you can trust and share deeply. The second is relational, or social – the desire for quality friendships, social companionship and support.
The last is collective (or community), which is the hunger for a network of people “who share your sense of purpose and interests.”
The last two have taken the biggest hit with Covi-19. Unlike the feeling of loneliness (which is subjective), isolation is the physical state of being alone and out of touch with other people.
According to Murthy, all three dimensions are important for one’s well-being. You can have intimacy with one person, yet lack relational or collective support and you can still feel lonely.
Murthy says that humans are wired for connection, and that kindness, like helping someone else, leaves people feeling less anxious, threatened and more secure. It lowers stress, which is our default state. “We’re biologically primed not to just feel better together but to feel normal together.”
Some of these issues are cultural. For example, in Africa, Asia and India, one finds a different model of community where everyone helps everyone else. People are called “Auntie” or “Uncle” even if no familial relationship exists. In Africa, the phrase “it takes a village to bring up a child” is accurate.
As one Ethiopian noted: “You can leave your kids with your neighbor and go away for 4 or 5 days and they will be taken care of”. That is definitely not true for most Western cultures.
Murthy notes that loneliness is associated with the risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety, dementia and even a shortened life span. While Murthy has a focus on the workplace, his book is spot on highlighting this topic during the pandemic.
I have touched on aspects of loneliness frequently, including Loneliness, Friends, Friendship, We are Better than Me, Hopelessness, Gen Z Burnout and others. Each has highlighted the next generation as being the most lonely and isolated generations ever. Their digital “friends” rarely turn into social ones that are deep enough to matter when it counts.
Murthy says our state of mind and a thousand years of biology “tells us that human relationships are essential to our survival.” I am bracing for the coming months when this contagion emerges post pandemic.
Unemployment has skyrocketed all over the globe, which means that people are staying home instead of working. That’s more isolation, not less.
Murthy recently said that one of two results will occur due to Covid -19. The first is a deepening of loneliness leading to a “social recession as we plunge further into isolation”. That is a scary scenario.
The other, more hopeful result, is for this to be a time for reflection on the importance and power of our connections, not just with people we love, but with acquaintances and strangers in our community. It is a time to dedicate our lives and be intentional about relationships.
The pandemic can be an opportunity by highlighting how we rely on people we love, as well as the members of our community who we may not really know.
We also need to lead by example and reach out to others where we sense they are having difficulty during isolation. Our actions with others speaks volumes to the next generation. My wife, sensing that a friend was lonely, called her up and asked her to go on a walk together. Nuff said.
Jesus talked about being a servant to his Disciples. “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:43). His principle provides a key to getting out of this contagion the best way, and not have a social recession.
The challenge for the next generation is one that requires outside help from mentors, friends and parents. We need to be proactive in their lives to be sure that they realize that they are not alone in this. This is a “solidarity moment” and a reminder that we have been given a rare opportunity to help and serve other people who may be lonely.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Be on the watch for loneliness in your mentee. The next generation may be the most vulnerable during this pandemic. Walk alongside as needed.
RESOURCES: Work and the Loneliness Epidemic (2017 – Murthy, HBR)
Loneliness and Covid-19 – Vivek Murthy
Fighting Illness Alone – World
One Another – Practical biblical ways to help others during Covid-19.
WORSHIP: Here for You – Chris Tomlin
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