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You’re Not Alone
It may feel like it sometimes; odds are it feels like it to other people as well.
“It isn’t only famous movie stars who want to be alone. Whenever I hear someone speak of privacy, I find myself thinking once again how real and deep the need for such times is for human beings…at all ages.” — Fred Rogers
Although we are bombarded hourly by the slings and arrows of outrageous electronic notifications, there are times when we feel utterly alone.
If William Shakespeare were on TikTok, perhaps he might consider the mundane and meaningless social media updates that command our attention to be nothing more than brief candles — walking shadows — tales “Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”
In wave after wave of inane humanity, it’s still possible to drown in a sea of loneliness.
The American Psychological Association looked at loneliness levels following the pandemic, and found:
Urban loneliness is greater than rural loneliness: 20% of people living in large cities reported a lot of loneliness the previous day, compared with 12% of those in rural areas
There is a link between anger and loneliness: 67% of people in early 2023 who reported feeling lonely the previous day also experienced anger much of that same day, compared with 11% of those who said they weren’t lonely or angry
Lower income and younger people are more lonely: 17% of U.S. adults in early 2023 said they felt lonely “a lot of the day yesterday,” compared with 25% in March 2021. Those numbers were significantly higher among people in lower-income households (27%) and young adults (24%), but both of those groups were faring much better than they were in December 2020, when 42% of lower-income individuals and 38% of young adults reported loneliness
To seek and cherish companionship is as natural as the human need for food or water.
Daniel Defoe captured the feelings of loneliness and solitude in Robinson Crusoe in 1719, based on a real story of shipwreck and survival by Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk.
Even before he was shipwrecked, Crusoe fantasized about the tranquility and reflection offered by a solitary life, when he worked in a remote area of Brazil:
“In this manner I used to look upon my condition with the utmost regret. I had nobody to converse with, but now and then this neighbour; no work to be done, but by the labour of my hands; and I used to say, I lived just like a man cast away upon some desolate island, that had nobody there but himself. But how just has it been—and how should all men reflect, that when they compare their present conditions with others that are worse, Heaven may oblige them to make the exchange, and be convinced of their former felicity by their experience—I say, how just has it been, that the truly solitary life I reflected on, in an island of mere desolation, should be my lot, who had so often unjustly compared it with the life which I then led, in which, had I continued, I had in all probability been exceeding prosperous and rich.”
Soon, Crusoe would experience desolation for real, after a shipwreck left him as the sole survivor and he washed up on a deserted (so he thought) island.
The intrepid and resilient Crusoe lasted 24 years before encountering another human: the native he called Friday.
But during those trying two and a half decades, his diary gives us a glimpse into the mind of a man devoid of human contact. His mind churned with turbulent thoughts and anxieties about his past, present, and uncertain future.
Crusoe’s thoughts reveal psychological mechanisms that allow him to live in a state of apparent security despite constant fears of the unknown. He realizes that he simply cannot know what he doesn’t know, and such limitations on his knowledge help calm his anxiety.
Crusoe’s loneliness, on the other hand, becomes more pronounced as he yearns for human companionship. As years pass and his yearning remains unfulfilled, his increasing restlessness becomes a symptom of a breakdown of his emotional resilience.
“Solitude is different from loneliness, and it doesn't have to be a lonely kind of thing.” — Fred Rogers
And there we see the Janus-like aspect of being alone: from the sweet comfort and tranquility of short-term solitude to the agony, loneliness, and desperation of prolonged isolation.
But even in the short term, there is a fundamental human need for connection, understanding, and reminders of our humanity.
In many work environments, there is an energy crisis — a human energy crisis. Workers in virtually every occupation are “languishing, feeling burned out and exhibiting emotional detachment.”
Jim Harter directs Gallup’s 20-year-long employee engagement study. According to their research, 20% of employees are actively disengaged and 44% of global workers are stressed on any given day.
And businesses are adding to the stress:
“We’re seeing leadership go in one of two directions. In one direction, they’re saying, ‘Get back to the office,’ and in another they’re saying, ‘Do what you need for yourself.’ The problem is there’s no coordination.”
What can we do to counter these effects?
Not to get project updates or share data — to listen and to understand the employee’s life overall. Such 1:1 meetings are timeless essentials for good managers.
It took Robinson Crusoe 24 years to get to his first 1:1. Here’s hoping you get it done sooner.
Stay tuned later this week for some additional Timeless & Timely sources on this topic.
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