Is loneliness society’s problem?

Lonely-girlIs loneliness a personal problem or a social problem? Should society make an effort to deal with the fact that so many people are lonely, or is this beyond the scope of social services?

I like to look at how a society could design itself to be more harmonious, cooperative, and loving. That’s my hobby. I like pondering the society I want to live in as opposed to the one we tolerate. For years I have considered loneliness to be among the most critical unaddressed social ills of our time.

There is no shortage of lonely people out there. There are also different kinds of loneliness. The most classic is to be mateless or at a more basic level without someone to date. Yet it can also mean having no close friends with whom to share life’s peaks and valleys. Loneliness can manifest as being in a minority, whether it is racial, ethnic, philosophical, political, socio-economic, religious, sexual orientation, body characteristics, whatever. Plenty of situations make people feel lonely.

In this context, loneliness means feeling isolated or disenfranchised. It means functioning outside of the majority, often way outside the mainstream box. It frequently comes with the price tag of being constantly ridiculed or vilified, sometimes the victim of serious or even fatal abuse and attack.

I believe that chronic loneliness creates chronic problems that in turn are not healthy for society and cost us untold billions. For example, addictions are often ways in which people attempt to cope with their deep feelings of loneliness. It is that profound feeling of being unaccepted, unloved, and disrespected that drives them to coping mechanisms that are often unhealthy choices. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, promiscuity, porn, over-eating, and so on can all be traced to loneliness. Various crimes against society often follow those addictions. Loneliness also leads to disease and mental illness, and in turn, mental illness and disease lead to deeper loneliness.

BUT IS IT A SOCIAL PROBLEM?

Every now and then I post something on Facebook about loneliness and I get a mixed reaction. Some people think that loneliness is a personal problem and that society can’t help. No matter what society could do, they say, loneliness is an inner experience. We can feel lonely in a crowd. It’s not the state’s responsibility to fix personal problems, especially one as personal as loneliness.

My take comes from my own experience dealing with my own loneliness. One of the first steps I like to take is to surround myself with upbeat, inspiring media. Doing that puts me into a higher vibration, a friendlier, more outgoing mood. But I have noticed that it’s not that easy to find truly uplifting media. I have to search with pinpoint accuracy.

Much content on TV and in the movies is focused on downer themes and creepy people. It’s hard to watch the news or documentaries and feel good about humanity when most of them are about how shitty someone is. My own experience tells me that finding healthy mind food cannot be left to channel surfing because most mainstream media is a fear-based selling machine. Advertising is based on unnerving us enough to motivate a purchase.

When I am feeling lonely, a logical solution is to find places where people congregate — where single people congregate if I envision meeting someone for romance. However, many of the institutions created for this purpose are businesses like singles bars, dating services, even sex businesses. Other possibilities include churches, workshops and retreats, travel adventures, various clubs. Many of these solutions are where people go to meet people, but it is not the major reason why the entity exists. For example, bars exist to sell liquor, not to provide matchmaking services. Churches exist to sell a religious brand, not for pair-bonding, even though people often meet prospective partners in church.

Of course, one of the best ways to find inspiration is through like-minded friends, but of course that’s usually the problem. You are lonely because kindred spirits are neither around nor available. Finding good friends takes time and requires nurturing.

WHAT COULD SOCIETY DO?

I believe that if we made it a social priority to provide more resources for dealing with loneliness, it would make a major difference in our world. It could be government sponsored through grants. It could operate as a non-profit or be privately funded through philanthropy. Its purpose would be to provide resources to assist people to improve their life and deal with their loneliness issues.

Here are some services it could include:

A Resource Library. This would be a collection of materials both physical and digital that would provide people with the opportunity to access positive, helpful mind food. For example, if someone was having a particularly rough time, they could go to a website and find a collection of inspirational, solution-based videos and downloadable ebooks addressing various problems related to loneliness.

Curricula. Besides providing access to library materials, various online self-help programs could be created. Content would be specifically geared toward helping people deal with their particular brand of loneliness (which often expresses itself as being discriminated against or ostracized.) In-person classes could also be developed.

Support Group. Loneliness covers a wide rage of causes and manifestations. One of the best ways to turn corners is to talk it out, but support groups are often expensive or focused more on specific addictions like alcohol, drugs, sex/porn, or issues like grief, divorce, suicide, etc. Sponsored support groups could offer techniques and strategies for ending loneliness forever and provide personal networking opportunities.

Networking. Many commercial enterprises have long since used computer database technology to match people, yet because they are profit-driven, they often use questionable tactics that frustrate lonely users. Besides, they are often expensive to use, especially online dating services. An organization could create its own service. Since loneliness covers more territory than romantic, networking can focus on addressing different kinds of needs that different individuals experience.

Gathering Spot. Some facilities could include meeting places where people could gather to socialize. A focus would be on providing resources for dealing with loneliness. People could drop in for coffee and leave with new ideas and encouragement.

Advocacy. I believe that many lonely people feel that Society has told them, “You’re on your own.” And lonely people think, “Yeah, you got that right!” Advocacy would involve making recommendations for social change that would specifically address needs of people who find themselves marginalized, alienated, and discriminated against. Advocacy would also make it more socially viable to find the right kind of help for individual forms of loneliness.

Media. Some advocacy could involve using media channels to more effectively create social awareness about various forms of prejudice, intolerance, and injustice —  and ways to overcome them. Beyond showing the problems as many documentaries might, entertainment could show people overcoming various aspects of loneliness. The film 42 about Jackie Robinson is an example of a movie that tackles the loneliness created by racial prejudice that Robinson dealt with.

PIE IN THE SKY

At this point my ideas seem even to me to be extremely idealistic. I know that. I envision the society I would like to live in.

A commonality I see in many documentaries about various social ills is how lonely people feel while dealing with their particular situation. It could be a gay person struggling to make ends meet with his or her spiritual hunger. It could be a fat person in high school dealing with mean-spirited peers. It could be someone feeling entrapped in a religious cult whose soul is screaming for liberation. It could be someone recently widowed or divorced or rejected who had taken pain to the core.

It would be grand if there were more places available where people could find healthy answers to their dilemmas.

MORE READING

Here is another post I wrote on loneliness.

8 thoughts on “Is loneliness society’s problem?

  1. Natasha says:

    I’ve thought about some of these things recently. As we are growing up, we are not taught at home or in school how to deal with problems – loneliness or the various problems that lead to alienation. We are expected to “get over it” and know how to (on our own) navigate social situations, find a job, deal with loss and abuse by hiding our emotions. We are also not taught how to properly express basic emotions or emotional behavior that is expected by a society that expects everyone to be automatically equipped with the emotional intelligence and social abilities required to survive in such society.

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      I agree, Natasha. We are often expected to “get over it” and then when we encounter challenges there are a bunch of people ready to SELL us solutions, many of which do not actually solve the original problem. I keep wondering what would happen if we magically had some sort of effort made to stamp out loneliness. I know that it is an individual effort — we must each run our own life — but there do not seem to be many resources readily available.

      • Natasha says:

        We are expected to run our own lives but then we are blamed because we don’t have the education or ability to function in the way that is expected of us. The standards that society sets for us is unusually high and very little empathy (or resources) for those who don’t measure up.

  2. nikkir1972 says:

    I have mixed feelings on this, and I have experienced loneliness in the past…and sometimes I still do.
    I don’t have a lot of “in the flesh” friendships. 99% is online, and I consider them to be real, breathing relationships that are just as important as anyone I could meet in person.
    I think some of it has to be with becoming a mother at a young age. I worked two jobs and had an apartment when my son was little and it left very little time for socializing. I didn’t have internet then either. I spent my evenings watching movies or writing/drawing, and at times I felt very lonely.
    I don’t know if general society could do anything. I do agree a lot of addictions and the like could be directly related to loneliness, but the issue is once those addictions come about it makes mitigating that persons possible loneliness much more difficult.
    Catching people beforehand might be good if it’s possible. I think individuals of decent character should…if they know of someone who is lonely….make overtures to spending time with them, even if it’s a phone call. People can do a lot of good and sometimes it’s a matter of identifying who could use some people time.
    Perhaps some sort of place or site would be good…let people put in their information and “match up” like personalities….sort of a dating site but not dating? Sometimes big problems start out little…and a friendly voice or face could make the difference.
    Good blog:)

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Nikki, I consider my virtual friends to be real friends, too. That is to say that I treat them with the same level of importance in my life as I do in-person friends. I used to spend vast amounts of my free time writing various books, novels, and articles. Many of my hobbies turn out to be things not easily shared. I have always loved photography, but it is not especially fun for people to tag along if they do not share the passion.

      I think solving loneliness as a cultural crisis is very complex, but I do strongly believe that it would make vast improvements in everyone’s quality of life if we attempted something positive. At least we could make it easier for people who want to solve it themselves by giving them access to resources.

      Thank you for sharing so openly about your experiences both in response to my posts and in your own blog. .

  3. nikkir1972 says:

    Agreed. I think at some point people experiencing loneliness can find it difficult to reach out….becoming “used” to being in that state, and even if they don’t like it feel somehow compelled to remain there. In my 20’s I began to be acquainted with people that would have been deemed “strange or weird” and I wasn’t sure I wanted to approach them. Yet, upon speaking with them…I found that despite those little “quirks” they were interesting and often highly intelligent people. I’d almost rather associate with those in that group versus the flashy type. Flashy types get more attention but often lack true genuineness and substance. I think it’s interesting the correlation between those deemed “eccentric”… and loneliness. Are they truly odd, or just lonely people having been labeled that way?
    Thank you as well:)

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