Alone in the dark
Photo by Atharva Tulsi / Unsplash

There's alone. Lonely. Isolated. Lots of words for what we simply do not need to be feeling, but we're allowing ourselves to be manipulated into it

As a Boomer of 70, I am among the last of those born into farm life, before it was largely eaten up by major corporations. It's not all that has gone that way; with the wiping out of small town USA by the Walmarts and Dollar Generals (the jackals of the low-end trade) our everyday community life is also going the way of the once-beloved storefronts.

Many of us lived with those as our reference points only to watch big box stores circle our small towns and communities and suck them dry, forcing our friends out of business. I am among the last of those born into that world, where community was king. You learned to get along with people you might not like because those were the folks who would come running if your father got caught in a piece of machinery.

You ran to their house too, if it was on fire.

Like lots of people I am independent by nature, but I didn't come into community in the deepest sense until later in life. I self-isolated, as so many, because of sexual trauma early on, the betrayals of my birth family and the military and the so-called "care community." It's easy to buy into the notion that nobody cares, we're all alone.

That I'm all alone siren song, and it's a sick one, allows us to be easily manipulated into the Us vs. Them battle that we are now waging against our own countrymen and communities worldwide.

Every time there is a battle, someone gains from selling the ammo. It has always been thus. These days the ammo is hate, and the spears and knives and bazookas are words and worse, the worse being mass shootings blamed on anyone BUT the primary offender: angry cis-gendered White men (who are also horribly lonely). The spoils of said wars are money and power.

Part of why those methodologies, wielded by Trump  and DeSantis  is because we wholeheartedly believe in the Us Against the World idea.

For a really good idea of what DeSantis has done to my birth state please see this:

No One Is Talking About What Ron DeSantis Has Actually Done to Florida
“Under DeSantis’s watch, the Sunshine State has not exactly been a workers’ paradise,” writes William Kleinknecht.

I won't demean this article by posting anything about the Orange idiot.

Hell, the one place where we used to find community is church, and churches are a new kind of hell on earth in too many places.

Yesterday morning I read an article which does a fine job of laying out how we have systematically been stripped of our connecting skills, those fundamental abilities which allow us to develop community, and which allow us to navigate the inevitable differences among us which have to spring up in order for us to grow:

Eliminating the Human
We are beset by—and immersed in—apps and devices that are quietly reducing the amount of meaningful interaction we have with each other.

From the article:

What are we?

Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. ­Damasio concluded that although we think decision-­making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.

With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents, and unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation, and collaboration with others multiplies those ­opportunities.

Our messy emotions are precisely what make us human, frustrating, interesting, wonderful and all the rest of the rainbow of unpredictability. While some men would LOVE to have obedient Stepford Wives  whom they can marry at twelve and trade out for new versions when they become tiresome at twenty, like most idiotic fantasies, all that falls flat.

For real connection comes with investment, loss, disappointment, recovery, renewal and rebuilding, and all of that can only happen with time and with people we invest in.

We are of the world and in it, unless we self-isolate with the help of social media (the biggest offender) and all those handy-dandy inventions which make life OH SO COMFORTABLE but at a massive cost.

Is convenience worth feeling part of a larger whole? I don't think so.

Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

So what's a human to do?

First and foremost, occasional loneliness is a part of life. Chronic loneliness doesn't have to be. By confusing sex with love, and sex with togetherness, we misunderstand that true connection has less to do with sex than it does with our emotional, intellectual and spiritual togetherness.

We also want all our friends and lovers to be perfect. While we have a right to hope they aren't cruel, mean or abusive, we also need to forgive their humanness, which begins with forgiving our own.

Here's what I suggest, with some examples of what I do.

I've taught networking for years. I don't teach the business card version of it; never have. What I focus on, and still do, is the story side. Here's what I mean.

As someone who suffered from severe social anxiety as a kid, the Army turned me into a reporter. I HAD to learn to talk to people and then, get their stories. That turned everything around for one simple reason: I realized everyone had a story, or two or twelve or fifty.

So did I.

When we stop pulling into the safety of our cocoons and hide out with Marvel superheroes, we find out that world is chock-full of real and marvelous super heroes without the cobblestone abs and iron suits. We discover that the guy next door, who appears to be a cranky old man, actually donates time to soup kitchens, rescues strays and spends lots of time volunteering at shelters.

Who knew, right?

We have to be interested enough to find out.

I listened to an NPR program during which a gay man with a radio program had begun to reach out to people who had trolled his material, and in doing so, found far more in alignment with his detractors than he found bile and hate. His discovery led to an even better program: inviting others to reach out to those who had trolled them.

What we find are loneliness. Pain. Isolation. A desperate need to be seen. In other words, so many of those we want to demonize share the same demons we have.

We are so in love with the lie that we're the ONLY ONES GOING THROUGH THIS that it's almost embarrassing to find out how banal our pain is. That doesn't diminish the pain, but it does diminish the feeling of isolation. THAT is what diminishes the pain. There are people who have traveled this path and they often have guidance.

When we converse with others and listen to their stories, they feel seen. We get to feel like Marvel superheroes. Nothing heals us faster than feeling as though we not only are useful to others but also that we gave someone a gift simply by showing up.

Where I love to walk in winter Julia Hubbel

Barring surgery recovery, for the last year plus, every Wednesday I drive from my home in Eugene to the coast. I visit a number of turnouts and beaches. I make it a point to talk to anyone with a dog. I love dogs, and people, who are asked respectfully, love to share their dogs and stories about their dogs.

Not only does that allow me my furbaby quotient for the week, I've also met my hiking buddy and her rambunctious Rottie mix. I've had lengthy, lively, wonderful conversations with people who are just as hungry as I am for conversation.

I like to start conversations while in line, even if someone is texting. Sometimes I get dirty looks. Sometimes I get into wonderful exchanges, which tells me that the phone is a poor stand-in for the chance to create a moment with a stranger.

The trick? Be open, soft and curious. Be willing to talk to anyone, anywhere, unless your Spidey sense tells you otherwise. While you and I need to be careful, the majority of us are friendly, and open to a brief conversation. Sometimes those conversations can turn into friendships.

Ladies in Botswana like to gather and celebrate the coming of a young one with gifts and drinks.
Photo by Mohau Mannathoko / Unsplash

Here's what to keep in mind:

  1. Assume the best. We live in such an overly-sensitive world of people looking for reasons to be triggered. My use of terms like "guys" is a lifetime habit, not an intentional insult. Word use is changing all the time. What was the norm for me as a kid is now insulting to someone, somewhere. If you and I are walking around looking for a fight over word use, we will find one. And we will end up isolating ourselves. People from other generations, countries, religions, etc. are simply not going to know your pronouns, nor are they likely to care. When we set others up to fail this way, you will absolutely, positively feel lonely when we demand the world cater strictly to us. There is such a thing as being so sensitive, we're insensitive. I've done it. It backfires.
  2. Listen to understand. Nobody likes the person who waits for you to finish your sentence, or doesn't, just so they can start talking. LISTEN to comprehend. For people brought up on screen time, this is going to be a new skill set. You listen body, mind and spirit. You watch body language, facial expressions (of which there are thousands) and learn to stay open to interpreting them rather than leaping to conclusions. Use phrases such as, "you said something a moment ago that I found really interesting. Let me ask you about that." That demonstrates that indeed you were attending, and is a compliment.
  3. Pay it forward. Be of service if you can. Offer help or advice if asked. Sometimes the real help is just listening. In a world of eight billion souls, too many truly do feel lonely. We create community by being present. When someone does that for you, return the favor to someone else at a checkout line. Strike up a convo at your coffee shop. The other day I walked into the local Safeway in Crescent City in search of a salad for my trip home. I passed a woman in her late sixties whose face was beautiful. I told her so. And I meant it. It would be hard to explain her reaction, which shape-shifted from surprise to shock to pure joy when she saw I was serious. Spread that around and see what happens to  your insides.

There's plenty more but those will get you started. You can join clubs, which are dying off and desperately need members. The Internet replaced service clubs which did a lot more than just have lunch speakers and collect glasses for the needy. They created connections and community, and we need their membership to swell again.

You can scroll shite on line. No better way to ruin your day. Or, you can also choose to go for walk, and chat up folks out walking their pups. Only once in many many years has someone turned and gone in the other direction, in my experience. Not my problem, theirs.

You can shut down your social media and go out and try being social. You will likely find far more friendly people than you remember, if ever you were social in the first place.

You can argue that you don't know how. Bullswocky. We are wired for social interaction. KIND social interaction for that is the glue that holds us together. As with all things, it takes practice.

Here I will recommend a fine little book by fellow speaker Debra Fine:

We are coming apart, and we don't need to be. The solution is ridiculously simple: get out in life, talk to people, stop being so judgmental about trivial bull and be interested in folks. They will most likely return the favor.

Boom. Loneliness tends to dissipate when that happens. The more inclusive you are about whom you talk to- the tattooed guy at the chess game, the purple-haired Black woman at the cash register, the big hairy biker- the more you will find that we all prefer to smile, laugh, enage, and walk away feeling lighter.

You can do this.

We all can. We need to take our world back from those who would have us believe we don't need each other.

Yes. We do.

Photo by Josue Escoto / Unsplash

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