It’s pretty well known these days that living in community – having regular contact with and other people – is good for our health. Over the past 50 years, study after study has shown that social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death. People who are chronically lacking in social contact are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress and inflammation which has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and even suicide attempts. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the immune system and the brain.
We can easily see how this can happen with some of the older members in our community, and we all have a job here to support them, but what about the rest of us?
In today’s high-tech world, our need to share space with people is getting less and less. With nearly every imaginable resource online, we can shop for an entire wardrobe and never leave the house, build our romantic lives without ever meeting someone, and even run our businesses entirely online. And while this offers each of us immense freedom, as with most things there is a downside too; some unintended consequences.
If one of us had food, we all had food. If one of us had a sick child, we all had a sick child. We lived off the earth, we read the stars, we respected the planet and all the living creatures on it including each other. But we don’t live that way anymore. We buy food in boxes. We live in boxes, and we drive in boxes with wheels. And we go sit in a box and stare at a box all day, and then we go home at night and stare at another one. We tailor our worlds to see only the things we agree with – set our preferences on social media, subscribe and unsubscribe to certain emails and select from a smorgasbord of TV shows – all ways to validate our own belief systems and exclude those we disagree with.
And as a result, we’re often incredibly quick to create an “us” and a “them”. The more we do this, the more we set the stage for fear, division, rage, bitterness and misunderstanding. I’m sure we can all look to certain parts of the world and recognise how this thinking is playing out. We’ve really separated ourselves from each other. And I believe this is why so many people are desperately unhappy. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high and in part, I think it’s because we’re losing the ‘skill’ of community – the ability to make space for each other, to tolerate, be curious and allow differences to enrich us rather than separate us.
Put down your phone (the screen of doom!), go old school and grab every opportunity to reach out and say hi to someone. Start a conversation with a stranger, organise a gathering that offers inclusion for everyone, speak to people you wouldn’t normally speak to – get curious, learning something new about their life, their interests, their culture. Maybe you’ll make their day, or maybe you’ll make your own just that little bit bigger and a whole lot richer.
Wishing that for you, and sending you love, Deborah Berryman