1,453 is the Loneliest Number

I was under the weather this weekend and ended up watching a Sunday morning news program from bed. BTW, the term “under the weather” may have originated back in the days when travel by ship was much more common. During storms the sea would get rough and the ship would rock, sometimes violently, causing many people to get sick. Passengers would go below the deck and attempt to reach the lowest part of the ship where the motion would be the smallest. Hence, they were driven “under” by the “weather” because they were sick. Over time, this became an idiom for feeling poorly.

One of the segments on the morning show was about loneliness. Late in 2017, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy sounded the alarm on what he referred to as an epidemic of loneliness. The research shows that loneliness is associated with a reduction in your lifespan that is as severe as you see with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Currently about half of Americans consider themselves to be lonely, and 20% say they rarely or never feel close to others.

Technology gets a lot of blame these days for our inability to connect. While this may be true, it may also be that technology has just made it easier for us to do some things we are prone to do anyway. The key to combating loneliness is connection. While we are more “connected” in some ways than we have ever been, the quality of those connections is much lower. We are often connected to thousands (or in my case 1,453 on Facebook), but close to no one. The quality of a connection can be in large part measured by the authenticity or transparency of that connection.

Certainly, social media makes it easy to put your best foot forward. People are capable of taking hundreds of pictures and then posting the one that makes them look the way they want. However, people have been doing whatever is necessary to hide their reality from view and present a better “picture” of themselves and their lives since the dawn of time. We are afraid to be authentic and transparent.

This fear stems from the belief that our value is comparative. If my value is variable and is related to how well I stack up against other people I will work very hard to look and act my best. Ironically, even the worst external behavior is often a result of this. If I give up on trying to rise to the top in one group, I can always find another group to get comparative value from. Sometimes the outward appearance and behavior of these other groups looks “devaluing” to those outside, but to those within the group it gives them their worth.

Value is not comparative. Everyone is intrinsically valuable, and everyone’s value is the same. This is hard for many people to believe and the society we live in continues to tell us differently. The only way to combat this is to lead with our own transparency and love. Someone has to take their mask off first. We have to lead in relationships with authenticity and transparency first, then, when others see we may be safe, we have to respond with love when they take their mask off. If we love others, and respect their value as individuals, we become voices for a different way of seeing each other.

Many people think that if they love other people, regardless of where they are or what they are doing, it will be taken as agreement with them or condoning what they are doing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christ himself loved everyone in ways and at a depth that I will never achieve and yet no one could accuse him of condoning everyone’s behavior. In fact, AFTER he demonstrated that he loved someone, and they could believe it for themselves, was often the moment he was able to speak into their life about truth and change in ways that were heard.

We need to get to know each other and allow ourselves to be known. As leaders we need to model this behavior daily. I’m not talking about sharing all your personal and private information with everyone. Transparency is built in layers as relationship forms. The starting point is to acknowledge our humanity. Admit we are not perfect. Accept correction and criticism. Let down our guard a little.

The stakes are high. Not just in length of life, but in quality of life. Kimray should be a place where the quality of life is high. Kimray should be a safe place where we can be meaningfully connected. That’s healthy. That makes a difference. That’s the Kimray Way.