In my naivety I used to think all grown-ups got on with each other, didn't fight, they had lots of friends and were mature and well-rounded people. I was fortunate to have a great family to model that picture, but I've soon learnt that bitterness, brokenness and pride take a big toll in causing people to turn inward, self-reliant and lonely.
The very elderly get tucked away into rest homes, and the marginalized and hard to befriend people are scattered throughout our suburbs and ignored. I think we can all be a little lonely these days, whether it's singleness when we want to be hitched, whether it's feeling alone while in a crowd or an outright lack of friends all together; but I think loneliness can be cured, and I've seen it happen.
More and more social networking doesn't correlate to closer communities, in fact I would argue that the very tool created to connect millions of people has driven many to feel more alienated and alone. We take delight in being a little narcissistic, with self-take profile pictures, and picking and choosing the best information to share, and which photos to hide from the view of others. We comment on our cool friend's status, and try to cull our friends list regularly in the fear of being too open to too many people.
Don't get me wrong I enjoy Facebook, I like posting the odd picture, I like to have some occasional banter and to be informed of the latest 'goings on.' I think the danger comes when our identity is reinforced from a mask of a profile we've made up, and when our social media parading creates more distance between us and the more socially inept.
We're all lonely
There appears to be a curious juxtaposition, where those on one end of the spectrum, (the marginalized people) feel vulnerable because they don't fit in, when they usually really want to. These people are often willing to share that pain and be vulnerable with those prepared to take the time to listen and care.
Whereas the more egotistic life of the party person, is probably more likely to lack true community because of a lack of vulnerability and willingness to be real and honest with those 'acquaintances' they're trying to keep up appearances with.
All are seeking true connection, and we're all in need of friends who will speak truth rather than just the things we want to hear. Being an honest friend or being a friend to those who find it hard to make friends, is far more counter-cultural and meaningful.
Abraham J. Heschel said, "A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless (insert lonely) are the true gold mines of a culture."
I'm 26 years old, and I find it depressing seeing old people, nearing the end of what are for many remarkable lives, be sat in a room to stare at a wall.
Last year my Granddad died at the age of 86. He had a heart of gold, and for the last year-and-a-half of his life after Grandma died, he lived with his kids (my parents) for most of the time, and other Aunties and Uncles took him for a few weeks at a time also.
My family did look at rest home living situations for Granddad, but on closer inspection any suitable place was likely to be a miserable existence for him, and for us seeing him there. His kids collectively decided that nothing was ever going to be suitable and my parents decided to take the plunge and take care of him.
Now I'm not suggesting we all take on the task of keeping our grandparents or parents at home in their later years, as it's tough work and a full-time job. Granddad took a lot of reminding as to when to take his pills, when to shower and shave, and he needed to be driven to the various places he needed to go. In a way my mum had another child to look after all over again.
I totally admire my parents for taking on that responsibility of looking after Granddad, and in reminiscing my parents said they wouldn't trade that time for anything.
I know not everyone has the capacity to look after the elderly in a family situation, as many families are broken and it may be an impossible proposition with certain personality clashes, not to mention diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's.
But the process of communal responsibility and acceptance of age, and togetherness is something to be treasured.
Whatever your group maybe, good community accepts all ages, all people as they are, and it attempts to reel in those people drifting into individualization.
For me, the less status updates the better; I want to venture into widening my real friend circles particularly those people who are harder to accept and befriend.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html