In a year marked by digital communication and remote learning and work, the idea of being ‘connected’ but not experiencing enough true human connection is something we can all relate to.
Wrestling with how to solve the dilemma of loneliness in our world – one that a quarter of Australians admit to feeling – American author and broadcaster Jack Eason wrote The Loneliness Solution. It’s a deep dive into how we can find meaningful connection in a disconnected world.
“We have really re-defined connection in our culture,” Jack told Hope 103.2.
“Some of it is because of technology sure, some of it is social media. I can add or subtract friends now with a mouse click. We’ve let cultural really define friendship for us, and relationship for us.
“[These technologies] have caused us to speed up life sometimes, and you have to slow down to have relationship – you have to slow down to have communication and friendship. Love is spelt T.I.M.E.”
Regardless of how many followers someone might have online, or how many people they mix with on a daily basis, Jack says the cure for loneliness isn’t found in being around more people.
“You can be by yourself or with a group of people and still have that overwhelming feeling of just not being able to connect with someone,” he said.
What Jack thinks we need, is more authenticity and accountability in our existing relationships, so that trust is formed and our social bonds can be deeper.
“Real friends who really love you will hold you accountable,” Jack said.
“They’ll hold your feet to the fire and they’ll press you. The trust part really is the challenge that I see, especially for the younger people.”
Our need for relationship and connection is something Jack sees as going right back to the Genesis story.
“God has wired us to connect with each other. And, until we really learn how to connect we’re going to miss out,” he said.
“[Author] Drew Hunter says, ‘The first problem in the world wasn’t sin, the first problem in the world was solitude’. Where God said to Adam, ‘It’s not good for you to be alone, so I’ll create woman for you, create companionship, friendship for you’.
“Even from the beginning of creation God said you need to have community and connectivity, and maybe from that time we’ve gotten it wrong and tried to find connection in other places.”
When we develop unhealthy connections, or experience an unhealthy amount of solitude, that has a ripple effect on the rest of our lives.
“I don’t think we can get through life the way God intended for us to get though life, by ourselves,” Jack said.
“I think there are a whole host of issues that we have in our world from mental illness, to family break-ups – you name it, because at some point we tried to do life by ourselves.
“Jesus himself had the 12 disciples, then he had the three inner-disciples. If Jesus needed community, I need community, I need connection.”
One of the reasons Jack thinks more people experience loneliness in our seemingly hyper-connected world is because – particularly in America he notes – individual independence is greatly prized.
“Maybe we have put the spotlight too much on independence,” Jack said.
“We should think about interdependence; God has created us to function together – because we really are better together.”
Jack suggested a lot of people are also hesitant to embrace the benefits of relational accountability
“It’s interesting to me that if it comes to learning music, or working out, or sports, we’ll put forth the accountability and the discipline but then when it comes to just growing as a person – and growing I would say spiritually as a person – we kind of put that off and don’t think we need accountability but isn’t that more important than learning a sports skill or athleticism?
“Accountability is crucial, and I think a missing part of friendship too that I think the younger generation especially is craving for. They just don’t know that’s what they’re craving for.”
If we’re made for connection then, you might wonder why we can find it hard at times. How is it that we’re designed to exist in, and have relationships with others, but sometimes feel so isolated?
One of the reasons Jack believes is simply because worthwhile friendships involve effort.
“It’s not easy to have strong friendships,” he said.
“It takes time, it takes energy, it takes investment and at the end of the day we’ve got to be willing to invest that time.
“The other thing that’s a challenge and an obstacle is trust – especially if we’ve suffered broken relationships in the past.
“But for the benefit of your own health – mental and spiritual health, you have to let that go, forgive that person, move on, realise that we are all flawed people and – if you really want to grow the way God intended, for your own benefit you’ve got to say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to hold hostage my ability to have friendships based on somebody who did me wrong’.”