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loneliness

I am still learning about this emotional territory. And admittedly it was challenging to capture the depth of learning in one short piece. But yes, I hope this serves. I for one, no longer wish to be alone.

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I have been working in the social innovation sector for almost a decade now and have had the privilege of speaking intimately with people from all walks and streams of life. The first years were optimistic years and I met several people who shared the same ideals as me and honestly, it was such a joy to be in the same community as others who were ridiculous enough to believe in creating a common good for all. But those conversations evolved and I began to notice something new. The more I listened, the more i did not really recognise what I was listening to. When people let their guard down, when body language revealed more than people were willing to say, when I started to piece narratives together from what I was hearing … it became so newly and sadly clear. At first I could not understand or believe what I was hearing, but the more I let what people were sharing sink in, the more I began to see. Across communities, sectors, and even cities, people who are trying to do something good for the world, are genuinely caught up in an unsaid loneliness.

And it is not unique to just those trying to bring positive change. In marriages, among educators as well as students, across pews and during even family reunions, there is an unsaid loneliness; a growing experience that sets us apart, that places us in isolation, that has us say to ourselves, “I am alone in this”. And the loneliness manifests itself in many ways. I first began to notice the effect that “no one else understands” had on me; not just as the speaker of the statement but also as someone listening to another person saying that to me. Then I began to notice “who else, but me?” and “no one else should see this”. And there was the more insidious “why me?” and “it’s not you, its me” and “I cannot take anymore”. At first I thought it was just the things that people say. But when you really notice, it is no wonder that we experience loneliness.

I first began to notice “no one understands me” just last year when I was working through a broken marriage with a friend. It was certainly not the first time I had heard those words uttered as I work with many youth in resolving their own experience of isolation. But this instance was different. A wife that had come to believe that her husband would never understand her, experienced an empty marriage for years. Her beliefs isolated her husband from her, and although he was a very different person from her, he did at first try to reach out. Albeit unsuccessfully. Unfortunately after many years, my friend did meet a man that “understood” her. And they fell in love. It was only much later on in our marriage mediation sessions did she share that her self-created loneliness was unbearable and it created such a thirst to be loved and understood, and a genuine susceptibility to the seduction and fantasy of finally being understood. I learnt that “no one understands me” is genuinely an unhelpful way to see life.

I began to listen to “who else but me?” differently at the beginning of the year. I had not noticed it any earlier for I have to admit that I too said this to myself often enough in the early years of my life. I myself said it as I felt that mistakes I made earlier in my life needed to be paid for and I alone was deserving of suffering and not be happy. I have met students who believe that they have to save their families. That they are the only ones who could heal their parents marriage or save an abused mother, that their siblings were too young, too careless, or too irresponsible. I have  other friends who experience an immense duty to raise their children, to be there for them all the time; aware more of their duty to care for others but undermining the need to allow others care for them. “Who else but me” is loneliness in the way that self imposed martyrdom is lonely. And perhaps even slightly arrogant. It denies others the opportunity to contribute and give to our lives. It doesn’t acknowledge nor give opportunity for others to step up. And it ultimately creates an experience that no one can step in to our lives, or even worse, we cannot step out of our own.

I learned about “no one else can see this” when working with youth through their growing awareness of sexuality. I learnt that pornography and sexuality bring much isolation in young males whether it be about shame or embarrassment. But yet, so many of them wanted simply someone to talk to, to bring clarity and perspective. What I did not expect to discover was that “no one else should see”, if not addressed early, would lead to habits of isolation that did not permit vulnerability. And this was not unique to males. And it was not unique to issues on sexuality. In fact, the belief that we cannot share with others that which we believe we should hide, breeds a fertile ground for self-doubt, self deprecation, and disallows the peace and stability that comes with perspective and maturity. We are not alone. We simply choose to be.

 

The truth is as unique individuals we are going to take time to learn about each other. There is no easier way. There are indeed people who are not willing to understand others, who care less, who are silent mysteries themselves. But in an attempt to protect ourselves, it is unfair to chase away the people who are willing to create the trust, empathy and love, every relationship deserves. “No one understands me” is a recipe for loneliness and isolation and will hurt our relationships very quickly indeed. “Who else but me” denies the power of community. “No one else should see” suggests that we are unique in our suffering, when we are in fact very very similar.

When we really notice, it is alarming just how many assessments we make that have us separate ourselves from each other. The very power of community and collaboration that is needed to solve not just the complex problems of our own lives, but also the immense complexity of the world, cannot afford to be sidelined by beliefs that do us all a disservice. I am not saying that there is not value in having these assessments, for taken in the vein of value, these assessments can inspire independence or personal responsibility. But for the most part, a habit of loneliness will likely bring the very cynicism, resignation, and inevitability that we are trying to collectively fight. I have found that “I need you to stand with me”, “there is such wisdom I can learn from you”, “I am here because I care for you” contribute so much more to possibility than my own lonely heart dares to trust. I too, am learning.

 

not written by me haha.

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