A few things in life has lead me to be writing about this topic, but for now let’s skip the reasons and go straight to the heart of the matter; The importance of community within our lives.
In my life I have met a few “Lone Ranger”, “Casanova” types who profess to need no one for anything and claim that they are completely self-reliant. Well, I don’t believe it. Knowing from personal experiences, personal observations, repeated/documented case after case of psychological un-health due to loneliness, not to mention the countless media attempts to explain and describe the natural human desire for companionship there is an inherent need that we all have for the presence of other people.
As an RA we are told that the community is the most important thing that we can create on our individual floors. In Church we hear about how encouraging it is that we live in a “body” or community of believers. In families we hear that no matter what happens, we’re still family. In schools there are small communities of people (sometimes not all that healthy) called cliques. Starbucks even has a company mission statement to build relationships between the Baristas and the customers. So, what is it about community, about relationships with other people that make Community such a universal goal? Why is it so important that we live, work, love, play among people; among other humans that deeply desire the presence of others?
I have been reading a book recently, one that I highly recommend, that has several personal stories about what the author, Don Miller, experiences in his life that have lead him to a faith in Christ. [The book is named “Blue like Jazz” if you’re interested.] Even outside of the context of the larger message of the book, there is a section about community. He talks about a time in his life where he was living outside the city with a friend of his. His friend was rarely around because he had a girlfriend that lived on the other side of the city. Don spent most of his time alone. He goes into how he began to make up conversations with imaginary people, even to go so far as to imagine that Emily Dickenson was alive and living in his apartment with him. After this story Don goes into why he thinks his hallucinations happened.
In Genesis, God created woman because “it is not good for man to be alone.” Obviously this is not the ONLY reason the women was created, but there is a fundamental need for all people to have other people. So, in a purely biblical take on the topic, it’s clear. It is not good for man(humans) to be alone, therefore God created others for our companionship.
In prison, one of the most severe punishments is solitary confinement. Now I might have my incarcerated-persons profile a bit off here, but it seems to me that the folks that are in prison are most likely the “Lone Ranger” go-it-alone types. So, if it would follow that these type of people really do not need the companionship of others, why would solitary confinement be any punishment at all? Wouldn’t it just be a vacation for them?
In Hollywood, Tom Hanks befriended a volleyball due to the lack of human companionship. I dare you to count the number of romantic flicks there are, or how many man-goes-crazy-in-space-from-isolation movies there are… okay maybe that’s mostly on the outer limits shows, but still! Why is that such a captivating and stressful situation if humans could survive completely alone?
Countless men and women remain in abusive relationships out of fear of loneliness, or abandonment. They stay because the possibility of being alone is worse than the reality of their abuse. If it hurts, at least they know they are alive.
People fear being alone. It’s apparent all around. Advertisements will more often than not have several people enjoying the product rather than just one. Tables in food courts are set up with two or more chairs. Airplanes seat you less than the “comfortable public distance” away from two complete strangers. Park benches are designed for more than one butt. Apartments are all clumped together as if you were living in a bee hive. You go to your local, community grocery store. It’s likely that you know the name of at least one of your bank tellers. Even in a society that professes to thrive on individualism and solidarity, the overtones of community and companionship are everywhere.
Yeah, yeah, we get it… right? So why do I bring this up if it’s seems so apparent that people NEED people?
Why do people still believe that they are an island? Why are there Casanovas? – no this is not a ploy for communism or anything like that – this is a simple observation that despite our grave desire to be around people, there is a wall, a boundary keeping us from what it is that we desire most.
Now I feel that I need to clarify, that this desire is for people and companionship in general, to be known by a group of people. There are other desires for romantic and spiritual connections as well; both equally important (spiritual might be more important, but that’s another blog in itself) but what I am referring to is how we interact with others at large.
We learn from people. It’s said that up to 80% of who we are is learned from those we are around between the time of birth until we are dead. Why is it that the school cliques look the same, talk the same, use the same verbal patterns, gesture similarly, laugh at the same jokes, and everything else that makes them a clique? We learn our behavior from those around us. This is why parents and guardians are so concerned with who their child is gallivanting about with. The influences in our lives are pivotal to our personal and social development.
If it’s true that the full 80% of our personalities and values are learned from those around us, the other 20% is what we are left with in solitary confinement, or on the beach with the volleyball. Now I’m a bit rusty on my rehabilitation theory, but from what I can recall, when people have been alone for long periods of time, there is a process of re-socialization that must occur before they can fully operate in the busy world that we live in. The length of re-socialization therapy is adjusted depending on the length of time that they were isolated. In some cases people are hallucinogenic at the time of their re-entry into society and may become violent, or paranoid, or any other variation of traumatic mental instability.
Ok, so that is the worst case scenario. You are isolated and become diagnoseably crazy from the experience. Fortunately, these are rare cases. Unfortunately, there are many people that live in isolation that are not diagnosable as crazy, but who still suffer the debilitating effects of loneliness. Depression, lethargy, crankiness, in some cases eating disorders, social anxiety, even divergent personality disorders.
It is my opinion that isolationistic tendencies are only re-enforced by the society that we life in. Despite the community nature of many things in this culture, there is so much lip-service to individualism that those who desire companionship believe that they are also admitting a weakness by calling out for it. The “do it yourself,” “God helps them who help themselves” “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” cliché party lines become the theme for further isolation of those who need community the most. The power of these words forces the shy, depressed and socially awkward further away from the society that they so wholly desire to interact with.
Unfortunately, the flip side to the party line is that those that are involved with the community seem to feel a barrier keeping them from reaching out to those that are watching community happen without them. The individualism line says that it’s offensive to offer help to those that want to do it alone. And because those that are alone can’t ask for help because it’s a sign of weakness, they don’t ask for help, to be brought into a group, to say that they are lonely. And because they don’t ask/tell, it’s assumed that they want it that way. Therefore, those in community leave them to their isolation.
Now I must comment that sometimes the lack of out-reach is not merely due to a lack of an out-cry, but sadly in many cases it’s because reaching out quite frankly, is uncomfortable. People get their 80% all figured out, and they don’t want it to change, so they stay in their comfort-zones surrounded by all the same people, doing all the same things, singing all the same songs, wearing all the same clothes… this is the point that cliques become unhealthy.
All in all, there is a cycle happening in this society. This cycle keeps the in-crowd in, and the out-crowd out. It encourages the formation of cliques, sects, exclusive groups and elitist clubs. There are ways to break the cycle, but it means one of two things. 1) an in-crowd person reaching to the outside and rocking the boat. Or 2) someone outside calling out for help, with the chance that those on the inside won’t respond out of fear. (this branches into the topic of fear of rejection that is even more convoluted and skews the lines of individualism vs. community… so I won’t go there now.)
It’s really a terrible plight. And there is not much that I personally can do about it, besides talk about it to bring awareness to the situation, and make sure that I’m reaching out to as many people as I can. But in reality, the power rests in the hands of those who think they have none, those on the fritz due to loneliness and depression. Step up, join something, put yourself out there.
I’m calling you out!
Come/go out, and do something with some people. Find something that you’re passionate about, then start doing it. You’ll find others who are passionate about it too. And then, you’ve found a community. Plug in, get connected, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You have more to gain from humility, but more to lose from pride.