“There is nothing more destructive of physical and mental health than the isolation of you from me, of us from them.” — Phillip O. Zimbardo, “The Age of Indifference.”
Friday is Valentine’s Day, a day devoted to romantic love, but this is about another kind of togetherness. It seems today’s culture is in much more need of dealing with the way so many people isolate themselves from others. Too many shy away from open communication, interrelatedness, trust and intimacy. It seems that many people are so uncomfortable with themselves that they erect a wall of indifference that makes it easy to become superficial, stilted and even callous.
Whenever we fail to express our feelings (joy, love, hurt, frustration, etc.) in a sincere and inclusive way or listen patiently to others’ concerns, we are separating ourselves from one another. Those who don’t try to listen to others with an open mind may be so obsessed with themselves that anyone else’s thoughts don’t even register. Every time we lie (to ourselves or to someone else) we are widening the gap. Whenever we fail to express something honestly, when we use someone else for our own purposes, or when we fail to consider the effects of our actions on others, we are isolating ourselves. We are withdrawing when we use alcohol or other drugs, frantic activity (work or leisure) or mindless entertainment as a way of escaping from reality. The criminal, the drug addict, the depressed, the lonely, the hermit are, of course, isolated, but consider other, less obvious, examples.
There are those who go to great lengths to outdo everyone, clinging to a feeling of superiority that keeps others at a distance. This can range from the Olympic athlete, to the movie actress, to the man who flaunts his Rolex.
The person who is so obsessed with doing his own thing on his own terms that he has no interest in connecting with anyone else is often not bothered that he uses others for his own purposes. Consider the corporate CEO who will do anything to increase profits, including taking advantage of his employees and skirting the law whenever possible.
Reminds us of what Robert Reich wrote in the Jan. 26 San Francisco Chronicle: “The wages of production workers have been dropping for 30 years, adjusted for inflation, and their economic security has disappeared.”
We’re all aware of politicians who are unduly tied to their benefactors and have little interest in the lives and needs of their constituents except to win their votes so they can continue on their ego trip in Washington. Add those in Congress who refuse to compromise. How about those of the top 1 percent who cling to their wealth like a security blanket for fear that they may have to share with some “undeserving wretch?”
People who are so obsessed with such technological phenomena as texting, Facebook and Twitter that they are often unaware of their surroundings can become very isolated. Some are so busy with their “social media” that they rarely interact face to face with even their families. “We are a people who spend half our days gazing down at screens and that, I think, has changed us. We’ve become unused to interacting with one another and we’re not very good at it any more. We have, many of us, lost the knack of treating people like people.” — Leonard Pitts Jr., Jan. 22 San Mateo County Times.
Our cultural stability is becoming more and more threatened by those who are so self-centered, so hostile, so disconnected from others, so lacking in caring and compassion that they have no qualms about taking advantage of others for their own benefit. From the street gangmember, to the narcissistic politician, to the overcontrolling parent, the results can be similar. Some say that this is because of the fast pace of today’s world, the state of the economy, the pressures on people to produce, consume and appear successful, and examples set by our out-of-control media. Whatever it is, this can have unexpected consequences, as described by Matthew D. Lieberman in his new book, “Social.” “Although adults can survive with unmet social needs for longer than with unmet physical needs, our social bonds are linked to how long we live. Having a poor social network is literally as bad for your health as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.”
So let’s dedicate Valentine’s Day this year to coming together and communicating in an understanding and more loving way. Let’s value and promote our human potential of generosity and caring instead of accepting selfishness and greed as a “natural” part of our modern society. Let’s remember the wisdom of Erich Fromm who wrote: “The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his ‘aloneness.’”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.