We have become a nation of very lonely people. In fact, some research points to a growing epidemic of loneliness.
Health insurer Cigna, using the Loneliness Scale developed by UCLA, found in a nationwide survey that 54 percent of respondents said they feel like no one actually knows them well. Additionally, two in five Americans reported feeling that “they lack companionship” and that they “are isolated from others.”
In my own work, I hear from men and women who find themselves friendless. In this hyper-connected world of ours, we are lacking true human connectivity. It is almost too much work to find other friend-viable humans.
I see a relationship between the trends of loneliness and lack of civil conversation within our country’s divided spirit. “Civility in America 2019: Solutions for Tomorrow,” reported that 93 percent of Americans point to a growing civility problem, while 68 percent consider it a “major problem.”
Many of us seem to have adopted a litmus test of faith or politics by which we decide with whom we will spend our time, be a friend or show kindness.
Human connectivity happens spontaneously at PTA meetings, in workplace break rooms, check-out lines and even in the stands at sporting events. These are the places where we build community and relationships.
When Ellen DeGeneres posted a video from a Dallas Cowboys football game where she was having a good time while seated next to former President George W. Bush, she faced a Twitter storm of outrage from her followers for her apparent hypocrisy. How could she, a liberal lesbian, possibly enjoy a football game with a conservative Republican accused of war crimes?
Ellen, sharing a light-hearted moment with another human being, was painted as showing a lack of principles. People trashed her on social media. Ellen! Who can hate Ellen?
Unfortunately, people seem to feel an urge, fueled by self-importance, to declare their positions and make judgments of others at every opportunity.
It may seem old fashioned, but there is a reason that old things get old, they’ve been proven to be right: From Emily Post to the Earl of Chesterfield, we’ve been taught not to discuss politics or religion in polite company.
There is a time and a place for expression, debate and activism. But a good-neighbor citizen knows when to put the banner down, pull up a chair and ask “how are you?”
Social media has created and fed this monster. We could all benefit by learning how to tell ourselves, “This is not the time or the place” and just keep our mouths shut. Nobody wins awards for bad-ass behavior at a family dinner table.
There should be no shame in biting one’s tongue. Yet, there is a growing intolerance for those who exercise tolerance. It is easy to understand why we feel lonely.
Our lack of skill in civil discourse, not knowing the proper time, place and circumstance for controversy corrodes our community. Unlikely and opposed parties must be able to come together for shared interests. Unfortunately, previous wounds from prior battles keep us apart and isolated in our silos of belief.
The easiest way to isolate yourself is to only seek out the company of your twin. If I were to set out on a quest in search of people who were just like me, I would only find myself. That sounds pretty lonely.
There is an understanding by those who enjoy many and varied circles of friends: People are complex beings and when judged by their parts, rather than their whole, it is too easy to find fault.
Among the Twitter storm of vile comments aimed at Ellen DeGeneres, one stood out: Ellen and George Bush together gives me faith in America again. And that person was then attacked. I, for one, need some more faith in America.
About the author: Mary Keyes Rogers is a freelance writer, creator of The Experience 50 Podcast and a 22-year resident of Traverse City. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.