A Practical Peacemaker Ponders . . .

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Overcoming Isolation

1/11/2009

A book that recently caught my attention is Little House on a Small Planet, by Shay Salomon. It showcases a variety of innovative and efficient small home designs and profiles people who have downsized substantially.  One chapter, however, takes the concept of personal space beyond square footage to explore whether we seek out or avoid having other people share our homes and our lives. 

The author suggests that when we think we need more aloneness, that may not be our real need. “As we spend more time segregated in cubicles,” she writes, “and among people we don’t know, we imagine that what we really need is ‘some time alone.’  The answer to a couple’s fighting is ‘give me space’ and the cure for children’s misbehavior is ‘time out.’ “ Yet for many people, time alone is not true solitude, and time with other people is not true community.  “Somewhere along the way,” Salomon continues, “many of us lost the habit of being comfortable and present with each other, of spending long hours just enjoying company.”

Our isolation may be increasing. A study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona found that between 1985 and 2004 the average number of friends with whom Americans felt they could "discuss important matters" had dropped from three to two. The number who said they had no close friends at all more than doubled to nearly 25 percent.

Certainly there are times when we need to spend some time alone to rest, think things through, gain perspective, or go on spiritual retreat. As practical peacemakers, however, we need to build community wherever we can. When a closeness exists among a group of people, several peace-promoting advantages result. Such people will tend to be 1) happier, without needing resource-consumptive entertainment; 2) healthier, with a stronger  immune system and increased chances of recovery if serious illness occurs; 3) less panicked when something goes wrong, because they have friends to call on for support; 4) able to live on less money, because they can share expensive items and perhaps barter services; 5) able to choose among a wider variety of options in a given circumstance, because they can get several people’s input; 6) less likely to misunderstand others, because being part of a close family or community requires practicing listening skills, patience, and respect for differences.

What can we do to decrease the isolation we and other people may be experiencing?  The small, obvious acts can mean a lot, such as keeping in touch, listening, giving positive reinforcement to our own and others’ dreams and projects where we can.  Think of the people in your daily life—who can you spend more time with to get to know better?  Can you give as well as go to parties once in awhile?  This needn’t involve much expense; a potluck and board games night is a monthly event at my house, enjoyed by all.  If you’re feeling lonely, and socializing is difficult for you because of shyness, can you practice facing that fear and taking small steps to overcome it?  Try going over to someone standing alone at a party and talking to them.  Setting the goal of having one real conversation at each social gathering is a place to begin.

Feelings of isolation can breed fear, anger, addiction, selfishness, and depression.  Whatever friendliness and support we can express to ourselves and others can bring a little more peace to the world.

Kate Lawrence