The Loneliness Epidemic – It’s Not About the Smart Phone

loneliness

I heard some powerful news a few days ago regarding the impact of loneliness on the health and well-being of people.  It was reported that people who struggle with loneliness deal with increased stress hormones, inflammation, and a number of factors that lead to heart disease, type II diabetes, arthritis, and numerous other physical ailments.  Loneliness is indeed awful for human beings.

It’s important to differentiate what I mean when I say “loneliness” because we often confuse it with something psychologists call social isolation.  Social isolation is a condition in which someone has few social connections.  Loneliness is a condition where the person may have many social connections but feels like they’re alone regardless of the number of friends they have.  People who are socially isolated may not feel lonely.  So, what I want to focus on in this discussion is those people who regardless of the number of their friends, feels like they’re alone.  I want to share with you how I think the fear of connecting with others is the main culprit in this growing epidemic of loneliness.

In the past a number of psychological studies focused primarily on the elderly since it was assumed they were the ones struggling the most with loneliness.  However, recent studies show the peak of the prevalence of loneliness occurs in adolescence and young adult hood.  It then decreases through our middle ages only to emerge again for some in their twilight years. Loneliness is a pervasive and dangerous condition for some of our youngest people.

A difficult part of the loneliness problem is how to make sure people in our lives don’t “feel” lonely and know we’re there with them, for them, and a part of their lives.  Just because we’re “with” someone doesn’t mean they feel it.  Loneliness in many respects is a silent killer because we can never be totally sure that someone in the company of others feels like they’re loved.  While loneliness is not an actual psychological problem, it is a negative condition caused by the fact those of us made to give and receive love feel like we cannot.  We need to know we matter, people care for us, and we belong.  Yet, we live in a world of “Disconnected Digital Existence.” Disconnected digital existence is what I call a state of being in which we develop most of our primary relationships through social media never really knowing the individuals we call “friends” at an intimate level.  These are shallow relationships that tend to keep our real human need to connect with each other starved.  I often say an overabundance of digital relationships is very much like having a diet of nothing more than junk food.  Sure, it kills the hunger but it never provides the nutrition your body needs.

Many people believe taking technology away from people is the answer, but I’m not sure that makes things better.  The same technology that’s creating a sense of isolation and loneliness among a world of connected people helps those who do have deep intimate relationships stay in touch.  It’s not the technology that’s hurting us, its fear.  We’re afraid of intimate relationships.  We’re afraid if we share something about who we are with another person we’ll be criticized, made fun of, or mocked.  Why do teenagers and young adults having a myriad of “friends” on both social media and in their many social activities feel lonely?  Because they believe if they share something about who they are with someone else it will be used as a weapon against them.  With our current technology that “weapon” can become nuclear in a matter of minutes by being shared on twitter.  We can understand why this fear of intimacy has grown among adolescents and young adults because when they watch adults disagree or interact with someone different from them they see these individuals degrade and humiliate one another.  Yes, intimacy and the friendships it develops can be scary.

We must become people who can trust one another again with our deepest concerns, ideas, and needs.  While some of my readers are not much for religion, I can say my faith has given me the courage to be authentic in regards to who I am and to fearlessly share that with others.  It also reminds me that I must first love someone and know them before I have earned the right to challenge them on what they believe.  My faith has taught me challenging another person on their beliefs, behaviors, and ideas isn’t about “winning” its about loving, and loving isn’t necessarily about changing the individual, it’s about understanding the individual.  By being in a loving relationship with someone, you allow for any change to occur naturally and in God’s time, and for God’s purposes.  The Holy Spirit teaches me this: Love one another, care for each other, invest your lives into one another, then the two of you will be transformed.  When one person enters into a relationship with another the individuals who walk away from that encounter are never the same people who entered that encounter because love has fused them together.  Who could be lonely in this world when people begin to do exactly what they were created to do, love and be loved.  That’s the answer to loneliness, to love and be loved authentically.  To be loved for who you are and for what you can become.  Why don’t you try doing that today and be the solution to an epidemic that’s easily cured.  Invest your life in someone else.

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Why the 2% Matters – Becoming a Better Student

Josephine.SuccessStories

As a professor, therapist, pastoral minister, workshop facilitator, and spiritual director I spend a significant amount of time “teaching” even if it isn’t always in the traditional sense of the word.  Sometimes I’m more a facilitator than teacher, but I do spend time sharing what I know, my experience, and what life has taught me in the hope it becomes a transformative experience for others.  I enjoy doing this and believe it’s part of my calling.  It’s a way I can encourage people to be the best they can and reach the heights of the human condition.  What always fascinates me is even when I’m well prepared and willing to twist myself into knots, do a wonderfully choreographed dance, or sing a song that lights the stars in the sky in an effort to convey the depth and meaning of the material I’m presenting, there are just some people who will not learn.  I’m not negating my responsibility in the educational process, I’m merely stating one can desire to give all they are until they’re exhausted, but if those individuals in your classroom aren’t willing to learn, you cannot teach them.

Given this truth about the educational process I will still argue that 98% of the responsibility falls to me.  I must create an environment in which the individual in the classroom, counseling office, workshop, etc. knows they are respected, loved, important, and safe.  Only when an individual understands they are welcome, supported, and valued can I as the one responsible for challenging them do so.  However, that last 2%, while small, is exceptionally important.  That 2% is a willingness to be changed.  It’s a willingness to be taught which means a willingness to take risks.

Learning, growing, becoming more than we are requires a willingness to be vulnerable.  We must be receptive to the one who is counseling us, teaching us, or ministering to us.  It means being willing to fail, to put yourself on the line, and most importantly, to realize we really don’t know as much as we think we do.  It requires humility, confidence in oneself, and trust in the one who is teaching and or mentoring you.

There are plenty of reasons someone can’t fulfill that 2% commitment to the process.  Dr. Carole Dweck did a significant amount of research on the power of a “Growth Mindset” in comparison with something she labels a “Fixed Mindset.”  People with a growth mindset find learning to be a process that’s fun and challenging.  Failure for them is merely a way to learn how to do things different the next time.  Most importantly, failure doesn’t make a statement about who they are, it merely gages where they need to direct their effort in a more accurate and targeted way.  A fixed mindset is the complete opposite.  It assumes the reason one is capable of doing whatever they do well is because these skills are fixed in them and their effort has very little to do with how good they are at the things they excel in.  The worst aspect of a fixed mindset is failure becomes a judgement about who the person is not a way of understanding how to do things differently.  Because of these features fixed mindset people are not willing to be taught.  They spend much of their time showing you what they know, not allowing you to transform them.  In the end, no matter how much of the 98% I give to the process, that 2% can derail the whole thing.

While this can be frustrating for many, it’s also important to remember Christ dealt with the same thing.  God himself knows how we feel.  He was charged with the transformation of others in ways we could never imagine.  God gave humanity a free will.  That free will is very powerful.  It can stop the power of God from doing the one thing he desires most and that’s to save us from our sins and enter into a deep and profound relationship with those he is willing to die for.  Free will is that 2% and it’s free will that keeps us from saying “Yes” to God.  If you are an educator, pastoral minister, counselor, or any other individual tasked with investing yourself into the life of another person, give that 98% like your life depends on it.  If you’re a student or someone who has entered into an educational relationship with someone else, give that 2%.  Yes, your 2% does not seem like much, but it can be the one factor that leads you into a fulfilling, transforming, and challenging experience in which you grow to be a better human being.  You have the power to be transformed by those God places in your life, just trust the process enough to be vulnerable to the learning experience.  Amazing things can become of it.

A Sandy White Christmas – Celebrating Christmas in the Carribian

Merry Christmas with santa hat from the tropical beach

This year I did something different for Christmas; I took a cruise through the southern Caribbean islands.  I went begrudgingly, mostly because the last time my family went on a cruise we hated it!  In fact, I thought we’d made a “blood pact” to never go on a cruise again, but I was wrong.  My wife and her sister decided we were going on a ten-day cruise that ran until the 28th of December.  Being away for that amount of time meant we would be in the Caribbean for Christmas eve and Christmas day.

Being away on a Caribbean cruise for Christmas generally elicits two types of responses.  The first is, “Wow, I would love to do that!” and the other is “I would never want to be away for Christmas, particularly if there’s no snow to make it feel like that special time of year.”  I can appreciate both sentiments, particularly since I have now experienced both ways of celebrating Christmas.  Those thinking it might be a great idea to spend Christmas in the Caribbean appreciate the beauty of this part of the world.  They enjoy celebrating Christmas in a place with white beaches and pure blue water.  It does change the whole perspective of a “White Christmas.”  Those who would never do it think Christmas is meant to be celebrated in cooler temperatures around the family tree with a nice fire burning in the fireplace.  Trust me, I can appreciate both these perspectives now that I’ve celebrated Christmas in both climates.  The Caribbean is magnificent and now that I’ve been there I must say it was a wonderful place to celebrate Christmas. I never imagined a Christmas eve celebrated with friends and family on a ship nor did I ever think I would celebrate Christmas day watching my children enjoy snorkeling and seeing rainbow colored fish that no Christmas lights could compete with.  These were both fantastic experiences.  Yet, coming from the North East of the United States, I know Christmas is special when that nip in the air, snow on the ground, and warmth from the inside of the house greet you and your friends as they walk into a home filled with the smell of cookies, wonderful home cooked meals, and the sound of Christmas music coming from the television. These are both wonderful experiences of Christmas.

Having experienced both these experiences I’ve discovered one very important thing about Christmas.  No matter where you are Christmas is always about the same thing.  It’s a holiday in which we celebrate the grace of God manifested in his incarnation.  Whether in the warmth of Aruba, the chilled air of Virginia, or the snowy mountains of western Pennsylvania, Christmas is still about the birth of Christ and what that means.  It’s about the fact God in his infinite power chose to suspend that power to take on the form of a weak and frail human person.  God chose to be one of us from the abundance of his grace to show us what love truly looks like.  He came as a human being to show us love is about emptying oneself and selflessly giving oneself over to others that they may live more fully. This is what Christmas really is; it’s the celebration of love incarnate, God in human flesh coming into the world that we may have life abundantly.  I pray all of you had a wonderful Christmas day and are enjoying the remainder of this Christmas season.  Peace be with you all!