Today British Prime Minister Theresa May tasked cabinet minister Tracey Crouch with the responsibility of “creating a national strategy to tackle loneliness.”
According to the press release:
– more than 9 million people always or often feel lonely
– around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month
– up to 85% of young disabled adults – 18-34 year olds – feel lonely
Minister Crouch says, “I’m hugely proud to have been appointed the Minister for loneliness to try and tackle this huge challenge that we face.”
Now, government ministries usually have more aspirational titles but, as Marina Keegan so memorably pointed out, “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”
Reflecting on “the opposite of loneliness”, at age 22 as she prepared to graduate from Yale, Keegan wrote:
It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.
[…] This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.
A friend sent me a link to the announcement of a U.K. minister for loneliness asking me the question: “What would you do if this were your job?” I have been thinking about this news story all day and what has been echoing in my mind is Mother Teresa’s comment: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Perhaps the opposite of loneliness is belonging and loneliness is the crisis of having no one about whom to say, “You are mine and I am yours.”
There are reasons to be skeptical about the extent to which a government ministry can address this, but I see the emerging public conversation as something both intriguing and worthwhile. Ultimately, though, there is a great difference between someone saying, in a general sense, “You matter” and someone saying, in a particular, personal sense, “You matter to me.”
John Paul II loved this topic and this reality. In his “Meditation on Givenness”, he speaks about how persons are entrusted to one another and called to “do everything to recognize that gift which [the other person] is for you […] and to recognize “the capacity to respond with a gift of yourself.”
When asked advice on how to advance world peace, Mother Teresa reportedly said, “Go home and love your family.” We need only exercise our moral imagination to discern what her equivalent call to action might be for those concerned about “a national strategy to end social isolation.”