Communities of Isolation — the biology of loneliness and community

Posted on May 30, 2013


Could it be that the American Dream is undermining the fabric of American life? Could it be that the American Dream, without radical transformation, will be the death of our society?

‎ “God comes to us in the midst of human need, and the most pressing needs of our time demand community in response. How can I participate in a fairer distribution of resources unless I live in a community, which makes it possible to consume less? How can I learn accountability unless I live in a community where my acts and their consequences are visible to all? How can I learn to share power unless I live in a community where hierarchy is unnatural? How can I take the risks which right action demands, unless I belong to a community which gives support? How can I learn the sanctity of each life unless I live in a community where we can be persons not roles to one another?” (Parker Palmer, 1977; as quoted in Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk Through The Quaker Tradition)

Consider these things:

  • The Biology of Loneliness. “Loneliness is lethal not only to the human spirit and emotions but also to the human body and brain… Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.”

  • “The studies, reported in a new book, loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, show that a sense of rejection or isolation disrupts not only abilities, willloneliness power and perseverance, but also key cellular processes deep within the human body. The findings suggest that chronic loneliness belongs among health risk factors such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise, according to lead author John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University.”

  • According to research, one of the top reasons that students drop out of school is that when they get into a tough spot with their academics, they have no one to turn to. (Larry Kortering, Appalachia State University)
  • A survey of the research on recidivism shows that one of the top reasons ex-convicts go back to prison is that when they are at a difficult decision point regarding something illegal, they have no one turn to.
  • People with disabilities often lead very lonely and unfulfilled lives because most of the people in their lives are paid staff that come and go. There are few natural supports (friends and family) to help them feel connected and move forward, using their gifts, and creating a meaningful life. This story repeats for people on welfare, those that are poor, single parents, homeless, refugees, and people that have mental illness. (see Loneliness, the Only Real Disability:
  • The Biology of Community. Nowhere in America do people just die of old age and nothing else… except in Roseto, Pennsylvania. “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”(Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, p. 7). After years of research, they discovered that the only reason they were dying of old age and nothing else was their close nit “community”. Community is a matter of life and death.
  • There are two types of being alone
    • Aloneness that leads to isolation and loneliness. lonelinessAloneness that is death-dealing.
    • Aloneness that allows for solitude and silence. Aloneness that is life-giving.
    • Loneliness and isolation is the lack of community that leaves us stuck, preventing us from moving our lives forward and from supporting us through difficult times.
    • Solitude and silence are the times that we remove ourselves from the noise and the clamor, the glitz and the glamour of a very noisy society clamoring for our attention. Our own soul needs our attention. It is only in times of silence and solitude that we can see life from a greater perspective and listen to that still, small voice within.
  • The Necessity of Community
    • Community is the way that we can simply die of old age rather than the myriad of diseases that most Americans die from.
    • Community is a matter of life and loneliness is a matter of death.
    • Community allows a person to be a life giving contributor and citizen whereas loneliness leads a person to being a taker.
    • Success comes from many more things than just the talents of the successful person. It is a convergence of a whole variety of things that mostly come from one’s network of support or community and the opportunities and guidance they bring (see The Ouliers by Malcolm Gladwell)
    • Poverty comes in three forms. Equally devastating are a poverty of
      • Money
      • Meaning
      • Relationships

Building a strong social network may be the best thing you can do for your health, according to an analysis of almost 150 studies. Researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina pooled data from every known study on health and social relationships and found that people without a wide network of social support had 50% higher odds of dying within 8 years than those with strong social ties. This difference in health outcomes is as large as that between smokers and nonsmokers — and larger than the risk of death from obesity or lack of exercise. Though scientists don’t fully understand the role social connectedness plays in our health, previous research has shown that people with a large number of friends tend to have lower levels of stress hormones which can create a stronger immune system.” (,8599,2006938,00.html?xid=rss-topstories)

Could it be that the American church is missing their mission and losing their purpose and relevance by basing their “ministry” on programmatic structures and professional convenience rather than focusing on building community, creating a responsive and alive body of believers that are actively doing the work of the church?

Could it be that community organizations, human service and health systems are missing the opportunity for true health and vitality by focusing on fixing sickness rather building strengths through community?

Could it be that the one constant of the institutions of American society is a type of poverty that cuts deep into the soul; a poverty of money, meaning, and relationships.

Could it be that communities are becoming extinct because everyone is too busy fulfilling the American Dream of personal peace and affluence, chasing after the gods of comfort, security, and certainty rather than connecting with neighbors, family, and friends?

A community that does not value community in words and actions, policies and laws, habits and practices, is no community at all; leading us to the death of meaningful American life, family life, spiritual life, social life, educational life, and religious life.

“A community that excludes even one person is no community at all.”

”What every single human being longs for, at the deepest level, is to be seen for who they are.” (Sarita Chawla)

”Since our earliest ancestors gathered in circles around the warmth of a fire, conversation has been our primary means for discovering what we care about, sharing knowledge, imagining the future, and acting together to both survive and thrive.” (Juanita Brown, The World Cafe)

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” (Margaret Wheatley)

“My enduring passion is to part the curtain; to remove the invisible veil of indifference that blocks to us each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s plight.” (Eudora Welty)

‎”‘I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.’ I still believe this. I still believe that if we turn to one another, if we begin talking with each other – especially with those we call stranger or enemy – then this world can reverse its darkening direction and change for the good.” (Margaret Wheatley)

See also,

Loneliness; the only real disability

Loneliness Is Killing Us – We Must Start Treating It Like One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases

The True Source of Greed is Disconnection