Sociologists and public health officials are learning more and more about the ill-effects of social isolation. In fact, we know today, that social isolation is a significant public health risk and that as many people die from isolation each year as from all smoke related diseases and illnesses. Officials have recently said that isolation is as bad for us as smoking 2 packs of cigarettes per day!
In this same vein, we continue to look at and study loneliness as a by-product of isolation; and though they are related, isolation and loneliness do stand alone. That is, one can be lonely in the midst of many connections. Our recent sensitivity to suicide situations seem to validate this point. Certainly many people who take their own life are not necessarily isolated, but are clearly alone with their demons. Equally, you can be in an isolated situation, yet not feel lonely. This is an experience I deal with every time I travel by myself.
These notions of social isolation and loneliness are important ones that we need to wrestle with as a community. Clearly they (isolation and loneliness) have a toxic effect on us, and anyone reading this post has had some experience with them. Further, there are people in all of our communities who are at greater risks of their throes.
The antidote to loneliness and isolation is to build more social capital - easier said than done. Still, if we, as a Community, want to lessen the effects of these experiences we have to better understand social capital. How do people build friendships? What are the steps and stages that are part of the social capital process?
We know more and more about the process, and I have written extensively on it over the years, but for this blog there are 2 key points to think about. One is that any relationship is a 2 way street - it takes actions on both sides. The other is that all relationships start with some elements of similarity. Think about it, every relationship in your life today can be tracked back to some component of similarity - it is the essence of social capital.
So, as you reflect on this, consider doing your part. If you are one of the lucky ones who has abundant social capital, recognize this - and then do your part to reach out, especially to those who hunger for connection. You never know - your behavior might just save someone’s life!