The number of lonely people in this country at this moment makes for a terrible thought. Even in recession, Britain is one of the most mighty and prosperous countries there ever has been, due to the scientific and industrial revolutions in which it played a major part. How it can contain so many people who are lonely or unhappy?
How can there be so much loneliness, and what does it mean to be lonely? Our questions this week were all about this. But here I thought I’d just write what I felt about it personally (though normally I use these posts to record the discussions in the group).
Loneliness is strange. To escape it, all we need to do is to reach out to someone near at hand. Since the escape is so easy, the problem of loneliness must not be about having no one nearby, but of being unable to reach out to the people who are there. We can be lonely even when crowds of people are passing our windows.
This makes loneliness a very difficult problem to deal with. Since the solution is so near at hand — just reach out! — it is like we choose to be lonely and refuse to cure ourselves. But when I have been lonely, I swear it seemed impossible to reach out, for all that there were many people I could each out to.
It seemed to be a fact that no one else would be interested in me. I stopped seeing people as having hearts and feelings, and the whole world seemed to be filled with objects, people were the same as tables and chairs and walls. It was impossible that any of them would care about me, because they all had their own interests already, and these were fixed and unshakeable, and didn’t include me.
I don’t remember how I stopped feeling lonely. I didn’t do anything clever to work it out. In fact, the more clever I tried to be about it, the worse it got. I ended up with half-friendships made for convenience which I wasn’t committed to. Before long I would let the half-friends down, and that made us all feel bad.
I think that loneliness is a very important feeling. It is an awareness that the universe does not care about you, and that there is nothing we can do to change that. This is a very important feeling to have experienced, because there is also another feeling which is the opposite of loneliness, in which the universe seems full of meaning and we feel a part of it all, which is equally true, I think. Both are true but opposite ways of relating to the world, and perhaps one can’t be felt without sometimes feeling the other one.
I don’t think that someone could have cured my loneliness for me. All that happened was that time passed, and I changed, and eventually met a certain group of friends, and after a while forgot I had felt lonely. So I don’t think it is possible to cure anyone’s loneliness for them. But it is possible to make it so people find themselves ready to reach out more quickly than they had expected. The answer might be to let the ways that the world is full of meaning and togetherness shine through more easily.
[This week we had guests from the Community Appraoches to Loneliness project. This discussion was inspired by them – thanks!]