The Epidemic of Loneliness – Part 1

David Brooks recently wrote a powerful editorial in The New York Times addressing the mass shootings that continue to plague our land. He says:

There’s always a pile of bodies at these massacre sites. Whether it’s at a synagogue, church, nightclub or school, there’s always an assault weapon, or a bunch of them. There’s always the survivors clutching each other, weeping in little clumps outside. And there’s always one other thing.

A lonely man.

There’s always one guy, who fell through the cracks of society, who lived a life of solitary disappointment and who one day decided to try to make a blood-drenched leap from insignificance to infamy.

There’s always a guy like the Pittsburgh synagogue attacker Robert Bowers, who according to Times reporting, was friendless in high school and a solitary ghost as an adult, who spent his evenings sitting in his car smoking, listening to the radio, and living, as one acquaintance put it, “in his own little world.”

George Will also wrote an article on the epidemic of loneliness, using as his primary resource Senator Ben Sasse’s new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other. Sasse believes that nation’s most discussed political problem is tangled up with the least understood public health problem. He believes clearly that our most serious political problem is partisanship. The public health problem is loneliness. Sasse argues that Americans are richer, more informed and connected than ever before, but are unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.

Even the Harvard Business Review recently reported on this growing problem in people’s lives. It said:

“Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.”

Nearly half of respondents to a nationwide survey by health insurer, Cigna, say they always or sometimes feel alone, and 54% say they feel no one knows them well. Such loneliness is connected with increased heart disease, dementia, depression, stroke, and premature death.

In thinking through this issue, you have to wonder why human loneliness is so problematic? Why does it cause such harm and dysfunction? There seems to be something in our wiring that requires us to be in relationships with others if we are to be healthy people.

This issue, I believe, strikes at the heart of the existence of God, the reason we are here, and what we are designed to do.

B.F. Skinner, the famous Harvard psychologist, who was an outspoken atheist, said that human beings are nothing more than a product of nature. He regarded people as being nothing more than a machine that responds mechanically to stimuli in accordance with prior patterns of reinforcement.

The problem with this argument is that machines do not experience loneliness. If he is correct this should not be a human problem, yet loneliness is plaguing our land. Why is this? It is as if we were designed to be relational and we thrive when we have healthy relationships with others.

This is the Biblical message. We are told that we are designed in the image of God. Therefore we possess a number a God’s own characteristics. He designed us with emotions and personalities. He gave us the ability to think, to reason, to be able to communicate with others in a meaningful way. Most significantly, He designed us to be relational beings with the ability to love, because He is a relational God who loves.

When we live as we were designed to live, we flourish. When we fail to do so, we struggle mightily. This is why loneliness is wreaking havoc in the lives of so many. We need to live with meaningful relationships, for this is the way God designed us.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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