Thursday, May 25, 2023

Built-in Loneliness Gene?

Nostalgia. It surrounds us. The older we get, the thicker it swirls perhaps.

Remember Mrs. Robinson? For that matter, does anyone even remember Simon and Garfunkel?
"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you"
Joe was a baseball player. Baseball was a relaxing, some say tedious, method of passing an afternoon. It was once the national pastime, but that time has passed. People used to listen to it on the radio back before there was cable television, satellites, and other modern convenience. That radio was amplitude modulated, more on that another day. 

"Lonely eyes" of a nation looking to nostalgia. Remember . . .? Well the good old days are gone. And, Bill Joel reminds us that "the good ole days weren't always good" (Keeping the Faith, Vinyl, 1983). Nostalgia can be illusory, as Baz Lurhman warned us in Everybody's Free (EMI 1989): "Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it; Advice is a form of nostalgia."

What a great day we had in Orlando on May 19! We had a great turnout for the first OJCC Workers' Compensation Academy. There were smiles, introductions, and conversations. There was commiseration with our self-imposed isolation and celebration of our reconvening for in-person conversation and proceedings. It reminded me of a recent article from MSN. This was a really exceptional piece about our collective disconnect.

The in-person drive is not new to this blog. I have been stressing our need for community. See When We Return to Normal (May 2020); We're Really Back (April 2021), Little Black Boxes (December 2021); Mental Health (January 2022), and Let's Get Together (May 2023). I have been preaching the need for community and engagement for a long time. 

The MSN article does a much better job of reminding us of the isolation than my May 2023 Let's Get Together, but it shares some points. It makes some exceptional points of its own, with movie references and everything. It suggests that Americans are stoic, self-sufficient, and a bit reclusive as a matter of choice. We "suck it up," do the job, and "ride off into the sunset."

But, is that the reality or just what Hollywood has sold us? The MSN piece picks up on the Surgeon General's recent warning about isolation. It notes some of our societal changes that are contributing factors in this discussion. These include technology, the assault of September 11, and the enforced isolation of the Great Panic. I cannot contradict the perspective, but I would suggest that these changes do not account for all the isolation and stoicism. 

In that vein, MSN draws us back 200 years to the 1800s and the perceptions of observers of this experiment in democracy. Observers back then wondered whether our pursuit of equality would facilitate or encourage our rejection of "the trappings of deep community that had pervaded Old World aristocracies for centuries." That is deep, prescient, and a bit scary perhaps.

According to those observations, Americans naturally see "themselves as standing alone." We perceive "destiny is in (our) own hands.” Well, admittedly there are a fair number waiting around on the sidelines for their lottery win or next government check. Nonetheless, we abandon our history too readily some think, eschew the connections too pervasively, and envision ourselves as independent pillars too persistently.

The MSN author reminds us that there is some myth here. There is stress on the role of community, the necessity of connection. There is emphasis on the role of social, trade, and other organizations in our collective well-being and progress. The suggestion is that we have not abandoned connection, it seems, but merely fallen into other habits.

For most of us, we need not learn new tools to re-engage in the community. We need only recall those tools and the benefits they brought. We merely need to rejoin the in-person community and re-engage. That is encouraging. But, for some, there may be some new skill education involved. 

There are those among us that need to be acclimated to the real world, engaged, and encouraged. They have no social experience to which to return. They grew up in the fake, lonely, and depressing world of social media and all of its failed premises and promises. These folks need more than the opportunity for in-person. They will need a push at least. Some will have to be dragged in kicking and screaming. But we need them to come.

There is no "built-in loneliness gene," according to MSN. We have the tools at our disposal to find "new alternatives to the old myths." We need to prioritize the work/life balance, encourage and facilitate in-person opportunities, and engage with one another. We have to accept that there is room for interaction, discussion and even polite disagreement. That disagreement bit is precisely what lawyers do. As a society, we need to do it more, more graciously, and more earnestly. Many lack intellect, logic, and common sense. We have to listen to them anyway. 

The MSN author presciently notes "Solitude and isolation do not automatically equal loneliness. But they all live in the same part of town." There is no harm in solitude. There is no foul in enjoying your virtual work environment, your quiet family room, your own backyard, pool, or kayak. There is no harm in ice cream, but you cannot make it 100% of your food consumption either.

And a final thought, "Coo, coo, ca-choo" to you too. We are having a live roundtable lunch in Tampa next Friday, June 2, 2023. Be there. Bring someone young with you. Let's reminisce. Let's share some nostalgia (you don't have to buy into it, see above), but listen and share nonetheless. Come tell a story, share a recollection, and ask a question. We need you. But don't get too conceited, you need us too.