by Gregory Saville
The opening lyrics of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams disclose: “My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me…My shallow heart’s the only things that’s beating”.
As we wallow in our current cult of self-care and self-healing, I remember that twenty-two years ago Robert Putnam published his book Bowling Alone about the collapse of traditional community and the rise of loneliness. And here we are, decades later, about to emerge from a Pandemic into an epidemic of loneliness! We drive our cars alone! Ride the transit alone. Walk through crowded spaces, still feeling alone. We can feel alone in social gatherings and in a marriage.
We have all felt the pain, at one time or another, of that kind of loneliness. It is truly a terrible thing.
Research suggests over 40% of our population often feels alone, which is not at all the same as seeking solitude or being alone. Loneliness is insidious! It is harmful to our mental health and it poses a significant public health risk to everyone. Scientific studies also correlate loneliness to higher levels of violence.
It is the condition of our communities that matters most when it comes to preventing loneliness. When we house people alone in single flats, in alienating nursing homes, or fail to provide opportunities for social gatherings, we build the foundation on which loneliness rests. It arises when people live alone, have no intimate partnerships and few friends, or suffer strained relationships.
None of those things are easily fixed, but all of them can be prevented.
Mateja has blogged about the Happy-to-Chat benches in Helsingborg, Sweden and also about speaking to strangers on transit. Tarah has written about the importance of Third Places to create opportunities for connection. She’s written about how the best form of self-care is to care for others
LONELINESS IS A TERRIBLE DISEASE
I too have written about the damage loneliness can do to our health (lonely people get sicker sooner and have higher mortality rates), all of which is backed up by behavioral science.
A decade ago I blogged about the well-known Roseto Effect – the town in Pennsylvania where residents experienced a powerfully strong sense of community with a huge circle of supportive family and friends. That in turn had a role in reducing stress, mitigating isolation, and cutting loneliness. Roseto had among the highest health rates and the lowest mortality in the nation.
Intimate connectedness and social support networks – those are the assets of great neighborhoods. If we are not creating neighborhoods, places, and relationships that eliminate loneliness, then what the hell are we doing?
SafeGrowth® is a philosophy and theory of neighborhood safety planning for 21st Century.