There are times when we long to be alone and seek out our own company. This kind of solitude can be a restorative and energising. However, there are other times where, even though we are surrounded by people, we can feel very much alone.
What is the difference between these two ways of being alone? In this episode, Clay and Sarah discuss the vastly different experiences of loneliness and solitude.
In this episode:
* Defining Loneliness versus Solitude
* Different types of Loneliness including Loneliness in Leadership, in Loss/Mourning, in the Urban environment
* Brene Brown’s discussion of the element of Connection, and how vulnerability is a requirement of true authentic connection
* Loneliness in Leadership – Clay shares his experiences of leadership in the military and working with leaders in various fields as a coach
* How we are neurologically wired to work together – check out Team Genius: the new science of high-performing organisations
* Physiological effects of loneliness
* Urban loneliness – how you can feel lonely in a crowd
* Whether technology has helped us connect or made us more lonely
While solitude is often voluntary and brings an experience of reconnection with ourselves, loneliness can often feel imposed by circumstance and ironically drains us of our ability to respond to other people’s lives.
Loneliness is clearly bad for our physical health as well, and psychological research by John Cocioppo shows loneliness increases our risk of everything from heart attacks to dementia to depression. Loneliness seems to increase our cortisol levels, bringing all the same symptoms as stress and adrenaline overload.
It’s clear from the research that Loneliness is about how we feel rather than the actual size of our social network. And ending our loneliness is more complicated than simply spending more time with others. It’s about our attitude towards others and, as Brene Brown would argue, our ability to be vulnerable to others that determines whether we feel others bring an opportunity for connection or present a social threat.
There are also different types of loneliness which seem to be very distinctive experiences. In other words, not all kinds of ‘lonely’ feel the same.
Urban loneliness, the common experience of loneliness in cities where one is surrounded by people is poetically described by Olivia Laing. “Imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or seventeenth or forty-third floor of a building. The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened, some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them.” This description of urban loneliness doesn’t require solitude because of course one is often surrounded by people, but an absence of connection, closeness, or kinship.
Other situation people can experience a surprising sense of loneliness is in positions of leadership. Elie Wiesel has written an amazing piece on this aspect of loneliness where he explains, “A true leaders cannot function without those whom he or she leads. By the same token, the leader cannot work or live in their midst as one of them. Hence the ambivalence of his or her position.”
Ultimately, being Alone and being Lonely are not the same, and seeking out Solitude feels very different to being isolated and lonely. And perhaps both experiences await us all at various points in our lives, unavoidable, but knowable in their qualities.
Now Clay and Sarah have a question for YOU… It’s about our crazy world and all the technology we use every day. Do you think it helps connect us? Or does can it make us feel more lonely and lacking in connection than ever? You can get involved in the conversation…and make these contemplations personal by sharing your thoughts here.
Til next week
C & S