May 29, 2012
An old problem?
Some people think loneliness is the absence of people but more than this, it's the absence of soul. And an activist legislative response is just part of the problem.
A recent report by the think-tank Demos tells us that the elderly in the UK are the loneliest in Europe, with a third of those questioned not seeing family and friends even once a month for a drink or a meal. As one said, 'The only person I regularly talk to is the boy in the paper shop when I pick up my paper.'
However, David Halpern, director of Downing Streets 'nudge' unit - set up to suggest ways forward rather than pontificate to the public - believes he has a plan. Most over 75's feel lonely 'all or most of the time' he recently declared, but says work is the solution. 'Work matters, particularly for older people, not just for the money but absolutely for social contact.'
It's a sad theme but hardly a new one. The charity Help the Aged have been producing reports on loneliness for years but the only consistent outcome is sticking plaster solutions. The forbidden truth in the discussion is this: if I am lonely, it is my problem not yours.
One person, after reading the report, used the anonymity of a blog to state his position: 'There are an awful lot of cantankerous, selfish, hostile old people in the country. Perhaps us middle-aged children can only put up with small doses of their behaviour.' It's not beautiful but there's enough truth here for more than a few to nod their heads in bleak recognition. Our being determines our experience, whether we're 20 or 90.
I was talking to someone recently in a new relationship. I asked if they'd got to the stage of being honest about everything. 'Most things,' they said, 'but I haven't told him how needy I am; that is, I haven't said what I need from him. But even as I say that, it does make me sound rather manipulative!'
We laughed and reflected on the dangers of insisting that others make up for our emotional black holes. If we bring our loneliness to a relationship, whether at home or in the office, we're a danger to everyone.
Loneliness has little to do with age or social setting and much to do with our terror of being alone with no distraction to hand. This is why people have friends they don't like. They prefer a dissatisfying evening with others than one spent by themselves. And this is why loneliness is not about absent people but an absent sense of self with whom I can be content,rooted and engaged.
Some who are lonely push others away; but all who are lonely push away what Julian of Norwich calls their 'substantial soul'. This is the saddest push of all and quite beyond legislative or social reach.
If you're interested, I've written more on this theme in my book 'Solitude - Receovering the power of alone' published by White Crow.
Posted by Mr Bojangles at May 29, 2012 11:41 AM