Home thoughts how to combat a pandemic of loneliness–the power of one

how to combat a pandemic of loneliness–the power of one

by Shawni

At first glance this picture isn’t anything special:

I mean, it’s grainy, blurry, bad quality.

But it melts my heart to look at it.

Because it was a moment at girls camp last summer right after all the girls got notes from their parents from home.

Although I wrote big with high contrast on that note, Lucy couldn’t read it, and this sweet friend sat down with her, on the sidelines of the hustle and bustle of camp, and read it to her.

It was just a small thing, but I thought it was the sweetest moment: a teenager reaching outside of herself and slowing down to help a friend.

Connection.

Sometimes the little things are the biggest things.

We recently read this book for my book club:

All the Lonely People.

It wasn’t my favorite book ever (you can read the unbiased reviews HERE), but it was sweet and it did make me think.

Hubert, the main character, has had a really difficult life and has sunken into loneliness. But when he is motivated to reach outside of himself everything changes.

It led to a great book club discussion about loneliness.

There are so many lonely people in the world, especially in the wake (or still middle??) of a world pandemic where we’ve been largely isolated.

It has been proven that loneliness one of the biggest public health challenges. “In the United States, more than one-quarter of people over age 60 live alone, according to a Pew Research Survey, and more than 43 percent of them reported feeling lonely even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Younger people suffer from loneliness, too. In fact, those aged 18 to 22 have the highest loneliness scores, a recent survey found and being a student correlates heavily with scoring high on the Cigna US Loneliness Index.” (that is from an article over HERE with so much more about the detriments of loneliness).

I love that in 2018 the Prime Minister in England even launched a strategy to combat loneliness (HERE) because it’s such a big problem. And that was even before Covid, how much worse must it be now!

We need each other!

So what can we do about it?

It’s easy to think we have to come in and make some gigantic changes, the power of one is real.

Let’s take teenagers for instance.

There is nothing that helps a teenager more in a world of social media bombardment and sometimes-self-wallowing-loneliness than to look for those who may need a friend or even just a smile.

It’s so natural for teenagers to be incredibly self-absorbed…it’s just part of adolescence. But oh how great it is when they feel like their load is heavy to lift up their heads and realize they can help others who may be even more in the depths of despair than they seem to be.

Years ago Dave and I watched the movie “The Way Way Back” and I don’t remember much about that movie aside from the fact that the main character, Duncan, was lonely. And I remember that even one person being kind to him changed his whole world. (We had a thing for a while to always tell our kids to “Look for the Duncans” at school, we need to do that again!)

Kids have so much power to make a difference to those around them if they’ll just forget about their own insecurities (which, of course, is so much easier said than done!).

But even the little things make a difference.

Loved that one night these girls just wanted to bring cookies around to friends they were worried about.

Yes the little things are the big things.

Of course, we adults have that same power.

We left book club with a vow that we would come back next month with some reports of reaching out. Talking to the check-out at the grocery store. Talking to the mom in the carpool line. Reaching out to a neighbor we haven’t talked to in a while. Looking up rather than looking down.

Sometimes I don’t think we realize the power of looking someone in the eye and sincerely asking how they’re doing.

Human connection is so beautiful. And so essential.

Sometimes we forget one person can make a difference.

And that ripple-effects of little things are powerful.

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11 comments

Madeleine February 1, 2022 - 2:58 pm

Hi Shawni, I have a book recommendation! I think it will inspire you (and your book club). It’s called “Humankind: A hopeful history” by Rutger Bregman. It talks about how deep down, humans are hardwired for kindness and compassion. And there is research to prove it! It seems right up your alley 🙂 Your readers might love the recommendation too! (I also would recommend Fieldnotes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch for similar reasons – my favourite book of all time.)

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Shawni February 7, 2022 - 6:32 pm

Oh these are great suggestions, I will put them on my book list! Thank you so much!
xoxo

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Bethany February 1, 2022 - 11:59 pm

Another relevant book club suggestion: the Schwa was Here. It’s about how people around us can become invisible to us. Very thought provoking.

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Shawni February 7, 2022 - 6:39 pm

Thank you Bethany! Your words reminded me of one of my “one word” focuses a few years ago, and I was so glad because you prompted me to re-read it: https://71toes.com/2012/01/my-2012-word/

I need to work on “seeing” better those around me, and not let them fade into the background in the midst of the sea of the “happenings” of the day. So I’ll definitely add this book to my list! Thank you!

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Laura February 3, 2022 - 12:05 am

Shawni, This post reminds me soooo much of a chapter in your mom’s book “I Didn’t Plan To Be A Witch” I think the chapter was called ” Listen For The Bells” Your mother wrote about being really busy the day before Christmas and knew that she didn’t have time to stop and visit the elderly gentleman that your family adopted through a senior program. But she made the effort anyway. Upon entering his house, (he lived alone) she found him very ill and unable to move. She spent the next 4 hours getting him to a doctor, getting prescriptions filled, buying food and juice to help him recover. All of that on the day before Christmas with a ton of things to do!!! She concluded that story describing for her readers how wonderful she felt that night thinking of that “grandpa” feeling so alone and ill, and now he was already recovering. She didn’t feel burdened by the 4 hours she lost that day. She felt content and blessed.
I’m sure you remember that story, but I’ve always loved it and I like to share it whenever I start feeling like the world is getting too mean and un-caring. It always makes me feel better. Thank your mom for me the next time you talk to her will you?

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Shawni February 7, 2022 - 6:40 pm

Oh I love this reminder of this book, and also of this story. So grateful for the memories we have with Mr. Boyle!

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Julie+Tann February 3, 2022 - 12:40 am

I have this book, even though I don’t have any children. I remember this about their adopted Grandad.

It was lovely.

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Shawni February 7, 2022 - 6:41 pm

I love that you have read this book, and that you remembered this story.
xoxo

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Brian Compton February 4, 2022 - 6:56 am

For a bit more of a clinical approach, please read Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by our current Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

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Shawni February 7, 2022 - 6:41 pm

This one sounds so good too, so many good book recommendations, love it! Thank you for sharing.

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mom February 10, 2022 - 1:49 am

This is one of my favorite posts! Loneliness is such a big problem in our world right now. Laura, thank you so much for remembering that story. I had totally forgotten it! It made me realize that our children have taken that idea and have gone way past what we did when they were kids. The thing is, we probably feel more joy than those we help. Those are great memories!

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