Andy Braner, teen advocate and Founder of Camp Kivu, says that comprehensively all demographics are dealing with loneliness. Andy asks kids at his camp and in speaking to over 80,000 students a year what is happening in their hallways. He finds they are more and more alone than ever before.
But it’s not just the young people who are alone. Among a sample of 3,012 people ages 45 and above, 35 percent were found to be “chronically lonely,” according to the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Results are reported in AARP The Magazine.
What does this have to do with leadership? A leader makes space for people where life-change can happen. That’s right. Whether it is at work or in neighborhoods or at church, leaders are people who understand that connecting, or belonging, makes a difference in the lives of people.
Technology is a primary culprit in our loneliness. I remember seeing an interview with Tim Cook when he took over as CEO of Apple. The cameras were scanning Grand Central Station and the majority of people were walking through that large expanse with their eyes glued to their iPhones. We don’t know how to connect in person so we just connect to our technology.
Finding ways to connect are not as easy as they were at one time. About 20 years ago, Ray Oldenburg, PhD, who wrote a book called The Great Good Place, argued that there are a number of attributes that make a third place a third place: It has to be convenient, inviting, serve something, and have some good regulars (which, he says, is actually more important than having a good host).
Isn’t that interesting? It is more important to have good regulars if you want to have a great third place than it is to have a good host. People need to be connected with others on a regular basis. That can happen at work, in the neighborhood or at church. And leaders can help the process.
Leaders must recognize the need to help their people belong. Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion, says that we are now experiencing a “flip” in how things happen in faith. At one time faith developed like this: belief, practice, and then belonging. Now faith is developing first by belonging, then practicing, and then believing.
How can leaders help others first “belong”? Here are a few ideas:
- Create a “third place.” This can be at work or in your neighborhood. If it’s a work meeting invite people to the meeting as if it is an event. Wherever it is, serve something.
- Find time to share stories.
- Have each person talk about the past week or month’s achievements, what they hope to see in the next month, and any struggles they may want to share. Celebrate the achievements and offer help with the struggles.
- Provide some good discussion starters to get people talking. Help the less-talkative share by asking non-threatening questions.
- Put the phones on the table and stack them. Whoever gets theirs before the gathering has ended can pay for the refreshments.
As a leader it is up to you to make space for life-change to happen. People are lonely. Bring them together and if you can find enough good regulars you might help bring an end to chronic loneliness.
Question: What causes of loneliness do you see in our culture?