There seems to be this increasing notion that we should hang around with “like-minded people”.
As if never having your opinion challenged is somehow a good thing. Have we gotten to a place in our society where we are isolated both personally and ideologically? I started thinking about this years ago when I saw, for the first time, a minivan with a TV screen for every seat.
When I was a kid, we had to play games on journeys, like “count all the red cars”, or “I spy”, or something else that brought a tiny bit of sanity to my parents (because it stopped us from fighting in the back seat). It stopped the fighting, as I’m sure the in-car TV screens, do – but unlike them it also gave us some family unity.
I wonder how many families still play games in the car? We all have our own iPods, and don’t often share a musical experience anymore, and we all have our own TV screens, so perhaps don’t usually share the experience of sitting down to watch a show as a family. And often, when we are actually sitting together, we’re texting people who aren’t there. Also, in politics, if someone disagrees with us, how many of us have a tendency to conclude that they are either Anti-American or stupid? It seems to be that there’s no such thing as the loyal opposition anymore.
So, what do all these observations have to do with happiness and wellness? Much of dis-ease is caused from dis-harmony, fear, isolation and loneliness. And while I am not a technology opponent (in fact, I am a technology enthusiast), I believe there is both a dark side and a bright side to technology. It’s a wonderful tool, but it can also isolate us, and also feed our caricatures and stereotypes. Certainly, healthy living is about balance. Balance is most often found in the middle ground. Balance requires engaging with a diversity of views and opinions, rather than always hearing voices that reinforce your own view. Balance requires engagement: Engagement is the opposite of isolation.
One of the largest predictors of all-cause mortality, especially cardiovascular disease, is social isolation, and we live in the most socially isolated society in the world. You might think: How can that be? We live in cities and high rises and are surrounded by people. Well, yes, we are surrounded by people, but we’re not socially interacting with them. We typically wake up in the morning and fix something that resembles vaguely a breakfast and then get in a car, by ourselves, turn on a radio and go to work. Most of us do not work in collaborate teams, most of us work in isolation and then after work, we drive home . Most of us fix a meal, perhaps, for the kids and they go off and eat it in front of the television or gaming system or they go off to sports practice and there is very little time for talking about the day. In fact, I would say the art of conversation has been all but lost. It’s true that health starts in the kitchen, but it flourishes around a kitchen table filled with conversation and commentary and disagreements and sometimes discord, but also love, commitment, community, joy and happiness.
Engagement in and building of community are the foundations of health. Community is built on “us”, not “me”. Many studies have shown that it is psychological anxiety and isolation that create disease. It is community that heals it .
What can we do about it?
We humans are collaborative, herd animals. We need each other. We need to do things that bring a sense of committed connection in our social groups. In times gone by, we may have told stories around a campfire. More recently, we may have collectively watched a TV show and talked about it all week until the next episode. We need to recreate the campfire or the communal cultural experience. So, this week, perhaps have dinner as a family or with friends, and engage in conversation, or consider joining a community group or project to gain a greater sense of belonging.
Tom Sult, MD
Author: JUST BE WELL
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