What is the worst of all pains? “Complete aloneness and doubt,” according to Erich Fromm. He states, “To feel completely alone and isolated leads to mental disintegration just as physical starvation leads to death.” According to him, this pain is great enough for us to hand over our very freedom if there is a chance of alleviating it.
George Monbiot’s article in The Guardian last year identifies loneliness as more unbearable than physical pain, “Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former.”
Loneliness and its consequences affect people worldwide. People who have good jobs, homes, families and friends can feel lonely. The feeling of loneliness and its consequences, however, are often more severe and more drastic when someone has no home, no meaningful work, no support from family and friends.
In those situations, alleviating loneliness necessarily becomes the most important task of the day. It’s a top priority because it is the greatest pain.
For homeless youth, loneliness is dangerous, potentially fatal. All those activities that we might think of as ‘steps to betterment’, like writing a resume and making it to a doctor’s appointment take a back seat if:
- the pain of loneliness is too unbearable to be able to function
- something (or someone) else has come along which appears to be a way out of the loneliness, even if it’s potentially harmful
So let’s look at loneliness for what it is –
an unbearable and often debilitating pain.
Only in this light can we look at other people’s choices realistically and fairly.
In this light, the seemingly ‘stupid’ decisions that young people make suddenly make sense.
In this light, we can start to create real strategies that actually help.
In this light, we understand that alleviating loneliness MUST come before the life-skills classes, the budgeting and resume-writing workshops, etc.
In this light
we finally get it
that we have wasted too many resources on NOT addressing the real problem.
Let’s redirect our resources, scarce as they may be, to offering young people love, compassion, and meaningful participation in society. If we don’t know how to do this on a large scale yet, well, we should figure it out.
Check out programming at thewindsoryouthcentre.org or make a donation to support an organization that takes relationship-building seriously.
- Erich Fromm, “Escape from Freedom”