Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Chronic Loneliness

"Standing Together"

Yesterday I came across a fascinating op-ed piece in the New York Times by columnist, David Brooks.  The article, tiled The Avalanche of Distrust, began with an all-familiar theme about how little trust Americans have in both presidential candidates in this election season. Having been so saturated by the deluge of media political analysis, I was about to put the article down and go on to read something else when I discovered that Mr. Brooks was actually touching on something much deeper when he suggested that our cultural distrust of presidential politics is symptomatic of a more profound spiritual malaise infecting us: we are all being suffocated under an avalanche of distrust in all aspects of our everyday life.

According to a variety of recent sociological research, the Times’ article made the stunning observation that more than two thirds of the population nowadays claim that they are unable to really trust anyone other then themselves- this number is even higher among younger people.

Many if not most people nowadays “fool themselves” into thinking they are in loving relationships with others, but these relationships are often very superficial and peripheral.  People post on Facebook or Instagram so that their friends can “like” what they say, or they may “chat” with colleagues at work or other students at school but this is often only an illusion of intimacy because to be in an intimate, genuine relationship with others, you have to be able to truly trust them and trust is a big issue for many people nowadays.

In his article Mr. Brooks suggests:

Today’s pervasive atmosphere of distrust undermines actual intimacy
which involves progressive self-disclosure, vulnerability, emotional risk
and spontaneous and unpredictable face to face conversations.

The article concludes with the observation that, crushed under the weight of this avalanche of distrust, more and more people today are afflicted by a chronic loneliness.

I am very struck by that term “chronic loneliness.” I hear a lot about people going to see a doctor because they suffer from chronic fatigue or chronic depression; but I haven’t ever come across the term, chronic loneliness. I wonder if a pervasive sense of chronic loneliness caused by an inability or unwillingness to trust others may, in fact, be the root problem of all our fatigue, all our depression and all our spiritual malaise nowadays?

As I see it, on a spiritual journey we can only find deeper truth and greater wisdom when we stand side by side with one another and travel together as we make our way through the wilderness of life. If we are isolated and travel alone because we are afraid to place our trust in one another, we will inevitably run into a roadblock on the way.

The more I think about it, love is simply not possible without trust. Love is only possible when you are vulnerable enough to “let down your guard,” believing that the “other” person really “has your back” and wants as much good for you as you want for yourself as we journey along the “way.”

The poet Paul Coelho put it this way:

Genuine love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility

David Brooks ended his remarkable op-ed piece about the Avalanche of Distrust with this wise observation:

The great religions and the wisest political philosophies
have always advised that real strength is found in comradeship
and there is no possibility of that if you are building walls.
They have generally championed the idea that,
even in the mist of an avalanche of calumny,
somebody’s got to greet distrust with vulnerability,
skepticism with innocence
cynicism with faith
and hostility with affection.

I think today would be a good day to ask myself, who do you trust? The health and vitality of my spiritual journey depends upon my answer.

1 comment:

  1. Good friends are a great cure for chronic loneliness. And I have been blessed to make some good friends here in our little valley. But, I definitely cherish friends from way back, like you, Paul. Our friendship is the antithesis of those 'like's and chats you mention.