A change in community
Over the last few months I’ve become increasingly aware of the demise of what I’d call “community.”
I don’t just mean the nostalgia of everybody knowing everybody and leaving your doors open at any time without worry.
I’m not talking about groups you can join either! The ‘online community’ that gives your access to millions of shared lives across the planet.
I’m talking about simply knowing who your neighbours are. The men and women who live in the next street, the people you meet at the bus stop, and those people, who just a few years ago, you’d chat to for five minutes about anything and everything!
The more I talk to, and support, clients (and people in general) the more it appears that there’s a lack of human bonding in society!
How many of us actually know the people we live by?
How many of us really keep in touch with friends or relatives on a regular basis?
How many of us just say hello?
We all have such busy lives now, and I’m no exception. In fact, just thinking about this issue has made me question how much I play a role in it!
A change in communication
Many people profess that, if they had more time, they would spend it with others.
But they can’t, time is too precious and there are other commitments to tend to!
Instead, contact is maintained by turning to social media.
It seems that we’ve developed a model of separation, becoming insular beings who disengage with each other in the real world, but feel safe to interact in the cyber one.
Don’t get me wrong, social networks do have positive attributes – they provide platforms for maintaining links with people overseas, family we might not otherwise be able to contact, and friends who have moved on; they act as agents of information and protest, as well as sharing mechanisms of good news and bad; but at the same time we are losing our skills of communicating and, in doing so, feeding anxieties, frustrations and stresses that are becoming much too common!
In counselling sessions, I meet many people presenting issues of social anxiety, difficulties in conversing with their peers and feeling separated from the people and events around them.
For many, contact with other people is mostly done via a keyboard.
Talking to someone face-to-face can invoke fear, anxiety and sheer panic at times, ultimately affecting an individual’s general sense of emotional and mental well-being.
This anxiety can be so powerful that when an issue develops in their life, their reaction is to suppress it rather than seek support to deal with it.
A breakdown in communication can quite easily lead to the deterioration of confidence, self-worth and even mental health!
This is not applicable to a single group of society either. It can seep into a person’s life regardless of their background, gender or age.
The benefits of communication
Talking helps us to feel that we belong, it helps us deal with issues that are troubling us, it makes us feel valued.
As a counsellor, many of my clients tend to be shocked by the positive impact that just talking can have on their emotional and mental well-being.
Talking about issues helps reframe your world and often results in solutions.
I wonder…if communication works so well when talking in session, how would the world be different if we spent just a few minutes each day talking to people around us? How much more would people feel valued and part of a wider community?
There is no doubt that mental health is negatively impacted by a lack of social networking and isolation.
The chance for someone to talk and be listened to can help resolve this and also provides a platform for solutions in our lives.
Too many people live lonely lives in our society and, because of this, develop associated mental or emotional issues (or increase the issues they already have).
In 2014, The Telegraph reported that out of the 28 EU member states, Britain ranked as the 26th loneliest country (ranked by the proportion of the population who feel they have someone to rely on during desperate times).
The article commented that, whilst we have numerous technological tools at our disposal, allowing us to connect more with each other, in reality, these connections are often superficial.
We only have to look at social sites like Facebook or Instagram to see the long lists of friends some people have, yet wouldn’t be able to recognise in the street, or even have anything in common with!
Interestingly the article also referenced the stoicism of the British and how we like to deal with problems ourselves.
There is sense that perhaps we internalise things a bit more, and men in particular think less about taking problems and crises to others and try to take it all upon themselves.
– Christian Guy, director of the Centre for Social Justice think-tank
How can we deal with interpersonal issues when we are closing down our ‘interpersonal community,’ rather than developing it?
Problems and issues are a part of life, we have more chance of dealing with them if we have a solid ‘community’ – of friends, family, colleagues and neighbours who can help us through.
We don’t have to be in each other’s pockets to do this, merely asking someone how they are can have an enormous impact on their sense of personal well–being…
“Hi, How Are You?”
There is already a movement towards this in the US!
Tuesday 22nd January 2019 marked “Hi, How Are You?” Day in Austin, Texas.
A day which, according to its organisers, is to destigmatise and normalise the mental struggles that some people face every day.
They do this by asking you to do something quite simple – reach out to a loved one with the question: “Hi, how are you?” and really mean it! That’s it!
Their reasoning? Well… you never really know who might need help until you ask!
The event is celebrated with an associated music concert and free streaming links to performances.
2019’s acts included: The Flaming Lips, The Black Angels, Yo La Tengo, Built To Spill and many more.
How did this all start? Well… The Hi, How Are You Project got its name from a mural, painted by Daniel Johnston, who suffered with mental health issues. The image was made famous when Nirvana star, Kurt Cobain, wore a t-shit brandishing the logo.
22nd January (Daniel Johnston’s birthday) is now recognised as HHAY Day in Austin, Texas, after Mayor Steve Adler’s proclamation and now it’s going viral!
People around the world are being encouraged to check in on a neighbour, friend, co-worker, family member, or loved one, asking: “Hi, How Are You?”
The Project, created with the support of the Johnston family, funds research grants and creates peer-to-peer training programs that encourage open dialogue on mental well-being.
Isn’t it great to think that just a few words have had such a powerful impact?
Maybe it’s something you should try – just ask someone: Hi, How Are You?
But the key is to truly mean it! – Listen carefully and don’t be fooled by the polite, robotic response of “I’m fine thanks, how are you?”
This can be tough to achieve without being probing but you can find some great advice within the articles: Managing Relationships, Supporting A Friend Or Family Member With Mental Illness and Understanding Mental Health.
I for one will be giving it a go, and will report back in a future blog… Who knows, it could be just the sort of thing to rekindle our communities!