Loneliness: Is it time to talk?By Steve Burniston On May 5, 2016
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Loneliness can blight the lives of anyone, even people who seemingly have active social lives, successful careers and stable personal relationships. The simple reality is that we can be lonely anywhere and anytime. Loneliness is not always just a state of mind either. For some people, loneliness is an absolute physical and emotional reality that can be as debilitating as many physical ailments.
Go through any anthology of songs and look up ‘lonely’ or words derived from this adjective: there’s a lot. Like love and affection, loneliness is a rich source of inspiration for songwriters. If you widen your scope to consider the experience of loneliness more generally, you’ll see it in all kinds of places. One notable but problematic spin-off from the advances in medical science in many societies is the rise of the isolated elder. At the other end of the age scale, major demographic changes in some cultures have seen the rise of single person households amongst younger adults. As we often hear, younger adults can find solitary living to be alienating and lonely, even in urban environments. Beyond demographics, traumaticevents such as the bereavement of a loved one or redundancy can puncture your certainties, often leaving you feeling cut off and desolate.
I’ve presented these examples just to give a flavour for how pervasive loneliness can be. Of course, some people can overcome the potential difficulties that I’ve described. Many elderly people and others who live on their own enjoy fulfilling lives. Some people have the support and fortitude to help overcome loneliness. However, many people struggle with the painful experiences that loneliness can inflict on them and do not have the tools to resolve this problem on their own.
If loneliness is an anti-social toxin that can damage lives, how can we challenge it? One approach is simply responding to loneliness in another person and offering some form of appropriate assistance. They could be anyone; an anxious colleague, a recently bereaved friend, an elderly neighbour. Obviously, even the most sensitive intervention won’t resolve every aspect of someone’s loneliness, at least not immediately. And there’s every possibility your approach may end up being rejected, even resented. But surely action is a better option than inaction?
Gil Scott-Heron, the late American writer and musician, once outlined part of his personal philosophy, which went something like this: if you are able to help someone who asks, why wouldn’t you? There’s a straightforward but profound humanity at the heart of this outlook and we could all do well to abide by it. Who knows? One day, you may benefit reciprocally from such an approach yourself.
Maybe it’s time to start talking.
© Steve Burniston 2016