Campaign to end loneliness…

Came across this today, and thought it worth mentioning-

The Campaign to End Loneliness.

Here are one or two highlights from the site-

  • 12% of older people feel trapped in their own home2
  • 6% of older people leave their house once a week or less3
  • Nearly 200,000 older people in the UK don’t get help to get out of their house or flat4
  • 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month5
  • Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone6
  • 36% of people aged 65 and over in the UK feel out of touch with the pace of modern life and 9% say they feel cut off from society7
  • Half of all older people (about 5 million) say the television is their main company8

Loneliness can be crippling. Some of the health implications are mentioned here.

Researchers tend to talk about different kinds of loneliness- chronic or situational loneliness and social or emotional loneliness. Emotional loneliness is due to the lack of a significant other, while social loneliness is about lacking connections in a wider circle of friends.

Interestingly, men tend to define loneliness more by the lack of a close personal relationship/life partner, whereas women are more likely to talk about not being part of a network of friends.

It set me thinking again about what we might do about this…

I think one thing we might do is look around us, and be more deliberate about sharing lives with older generations. By this I do not mean merely ‘visiting’ or offering assistance in a patronising kind of way. It rarely works as a way of reducing loneliness- rather it might increase alienation and create dependency. This also may well not be sustainable, and we end up letting people down.

But perhaps there are other ways. I do not mean to suggest that we have got this all sorted, but here is one story of hope that might suggest an alternative-

Our kids are blessed with 4 different arrangements of Grandparents- due to the breakdown of marriages and various re formed family situations. But they are all at a distance.

So we have an adopted Scottish Granny.

Our dear Netta has just gone home after looking after William all day- he has been feeling ill, and so was off school. While she was here, she mended a chair cover, and sewed up some holes in clothing. Sometimes it feels like we are exploiting her, but I know too that it gives her such a lot of pleasure to be helpful in these ways…

We are able to help her out with some little household tasks although she hates asking, so it is always better to try to anticipate them if we can. Michaela is good at keeping in touch too, which is something I am rubbish at- being a hater of the telephone at the best of times.

Netta’s husband died around 10 ago- we never knew him, but he must have been a special man. He left a terrible void. We have become very fond of Netta’s grown up daughter too- who lives over the water, and gets over whenever she can.

What we have found is that the important thing is relationship. Lives shared. Families open and extending themselves to one another.

We humans are social animals. But we are all different, so there will need to be lots of different solutions- lots of different ways of connecting one with the other.

And loneliness is not inevitable- it is cultural. So let us change the culture.

Letting some air out of pneumatic church…

This afternoon some of the Aoradh crowd met up with Peter and Dorothy Neilson for a chat.

Peter and Dorothy are the parents of one of the Aoradh crew- Pauline B, and apart from just the pleasure of sharing a long cup of tea, it was great to talk of church- what is, what has been and what might be to come.

Peter is particularly well qualified to talk of these things as he was the convener of the Church of Scotland’s ‘Church without walls’ report. At present, he divides his time between Church consultancy work, running retreats with Dorothy, and no doubt a hundred other things.

Today we discussed the story of Aoradh and Peter was able to talk of how our development fits into a wider experience of faith inside/outside church in Scotland. Some of this we knew about, but a lot we did not. Scotland is a small place (in terms of numbers of people,) but as we have discussed before, we are not well networked.

For instance, he talked about his involvement with Coracle in Edinburgh, who are doing some interesting things.

Peter also used a phrase that made me smile- suggesting that Church in the past had tended to be Pneumatic- it sucked you in, then sucked you dry.

He was of the opinion that the development of small communities who live out faith through small ritual and celebration may well be part of the future of church.

And in so doing, we might let go some of the need to suck- and remember also to breathe out…

Dunbar’s number and Facebooking…

I was reminded today of Dunbar’s number– the theoretical numerical limit of people that we can maintain meaningful relationship with- relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person in the group.

The suggestion made is that for groups to be cohesive and integrated beyond this number, then increasingly rules and enforced norms have to be used. Dunbar proposed this number as a result of studying primate groups.

The number has been argued about in anthropological circles, but is somewhere between 100-150.

Strangely this number corresponds to the average number of Facebook friends (I have around 120 I think. Michaela has many more, but then she is a very sociable kind of monkey.) I have written before about how Facebook, useful and clever though it is, can reduce communication to a kind of cyber-autism.

The other figure that is relevant though is the number of people with whom you can sustain intimate, deeper friendship- our close community. This is a much smaller number- usually thought to be between 5 and 10.

Even if these figures are more or less accurate (and we humans form a broad bell curve on just about everything) then so what?

If these numbers are a feature of the limitations of our cerebral cortex as Dunbar suggested, then it would mean that we humans (who are above all things SOCIAL animals) are at our best in small groups.

There are clear evolutionary and anthropological implications for this- but of course, I am interested too in the theological ones. These are the things that seemed important to me-

Jesus called us to live in communities, where we might learn to practice the mysterious and challenging ways of love.

And although this love was never intended to be restricted to our small groups, we simply can not be all things to everyone. Start with were you are, and seek to live graciously and generously. Accepting that you will fail.

And there will be some who we are called towards deeper relationship with- soul friendship.

This kind of relationship requires so much more than informational exchange, status updates and Mafia wars games.

It needs flesh.

New Year, 2011

The year turns

And so will I Lord…

Happy New Year all- may this one be a great one.

We have had a great few days- a house FULL of people (23 people per meal!) lots of music, food and a nice swim in the Clyde on New Years Day.

The latter being a deliberate attempt to put the events of February firmly behind me… I made the paper again recently as part of their ‘review of the year’- dangling below a helicopter for all to see.

Here are a few pics- click to enlarge…

The power of we, revisited…

Saw a piece of research today into research into mortality rates-
Facilitating patient use of naturally occurring social relations and community-based interventions may be more successful than providing social support through hired personnel.
The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity.)
The overall effect remained consistent across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, follow up period, and cause of death, suggesting that the association between social relationships and mortality may be general.

This is rather startling… the strength of our social network will have more positive effect on our health than all the other lifestyle things we are hit with repeatedly- the weight loss industry, stopping smoking, vegetable eating etc.

(Perhaps we should all get together to share a good smoke and to eat large amounts of chocolate!)

It was part of a presentation done at this conference that I almost went to-

So living in loving community is good for you- in every physical sense imaginable.

It is the way we humans were made.

And it is the best that we can become.

Internet communication- the cyber space between us…

I had an e-mail from a friend today.

I had not spoken to him for a while as our last communication had been rather contentious- first over Facebook, then by e-mail. I had been trying to catch up with him to have a face to face discussion but it had not worked out yet- phone calls missed, text messages crossed- you know how it goes.

It left me reflecting not for the first time (see here for example,) on how the internet allows for a million connections- all of which lack something crucially human. And of how it allows us to sit in our isolated boxes and have the illusion of human interaction via all sorts of electronic devices, but still to remainwholly alone.

That is not entirely fair of course- it is possible to send lots of information by means of our computers and the glorious internet. For example- you are reading this. But as a means of doing what humans were really made to do- to share our lives in community- it has major flaws.

It lacks flesh.

It closes us off from all of those human communication nuances- body language, facial expression, physical touch.

It is constantly open to misinterpretation.

It places communication at a distance from emotion.

It promotes volume (‘hits’, numbers of face book friends,  connection speed etc.) over quality and depth.

When the going gets tough, it is even easier to move on- simply take someone off of your contact list.

The best of what we are is revealed through our human community- the love we show for one another and the sacrifices we are prepared to make for one another. You simply can not do this in any kind of complete way via a computer screen.

Back to the e-mail. This is what it said-


I am caught up in a real mess and i need your help. I’m sorry I didn’t inform you about my trip ,I had a trip to the NEW YORK and a bizarre thing happened to me.I was mugged at gun point last night, the muggers carted away with all my belongings excluded my passport.Cell,c-card,cash and some important documents are all gone.

I was able to make contact with the US Police and i was directed to the Consular office, but they seems to be taking things to slow. i need your help so urgently.. My flight leaves pretty soon but i am having problems sorting out the hotel bills and also need getting my ticket straightened out. I need your help. I need a quick loan to get things fixed out here, I promise to refund as soon as i get back home.. please reply as soon as you get these  email. so i can tell you what to do and how to get the money to me..

Hope to read from you soon..

Now to be honest, I was sceptical. But my friend has American connections, so I thought that it was not impossible that he was indeed in trouble and needed help, so I replied asking him what was going on, and what he needed. I then received a reply that suggested that he needed $1500, and way for me to pay.

I phoned my friend, and he answered. He was not in New York- of course it was a scam, as someone had hacked into his Google mail account.

But we managed to plan to meet next week- and I am really looking forward to seeing him again. E-mails are dangerous, but sometimes they can facilitate real connections, and for that, I am grateful.