These days the world seems a little more frightening than usual. Iraq feels dangerously out of control. North Korea is firing missiles, Iran is threatening to acquire nuclear weapons, and now Israel and Lebanon have turned into a powderkeg.
Yes, I’m scared. Most of us, when we get together with friends, debate the pros and cons of various interventions. But typically we don’t talk about our more vulnerable feelings of fear or helplessness. Usually those discussions are reserved for our closest friends, those whom we trust with our secrets.
And because we are social animals, the larger our network of close friends, the more secure and connected we will feel.
But according to a survey of nearly 1,500 people published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review, the number of people we consider trusted friends has decreased 30 percent in the last two decades.
And 25 percent of us don’t confide in anyone. That number has more than tripled since 1984.
Even the authors were surprised by such a dramatic shift over a relatively brief time span.
This study confirms what I’ve been seeing in my practice, hearing from my radio listeners, and observing around my neighborhood. And I’ve been asking myself, Why is this happening?
In my view, there are many reasons. Over the last two decades, two working parents have become the norm. As jobs demand more hours, more people sacrifice vacation and sick time. And the relationships we develop at work are rarely of the intimate and confidential kind.
Technology adds to the isolation as more people spend longer periods before a screen. Families move more often and therefore don’t have time to develop deep roots in a community. And all that doesn’t even mention the children.
So at the end of the day, after carpools and homework and e-mails, with what little energy we have, it’s unlikely we’re going to spend the evening with some neighbors, let alone join a club to help make the world a better place.
Social isolation exacts a toll. When we don’t have trusted friends, we are at more risk for feeling depressed, insecure and disconnected from the larger world. But my question is this: Are you alone with those feelings?
When I admit I’m scared, I know I’m not the only one. I also know that if I add another security system to my home, or move to a gated community, I’ll ultimately feel even more isolated and therefore more scared.
What if, instead of withholding our more vulnerable feelings and isolating ourselves, we do the opposite – we begin to open up to additional people in our world?
A young lady I know takes the PATH train from New Jersey to New York for work. This was the train that the terrorists were plotting to blow up. After hearing about the foiled plot, she was terrified to take the train the next day. Not only was she afraid for her life, but she feared she would begin to cry on the train and be embarrassed.
Sure enough, the next day on the train she became so frightened that she began to cry. No one seemed to notice, and one hopes she was less frightened the next day. But I wonder what would have happened if she had said to the person next to her: “I’m a little scared, are you?” Maybe that would have been an opportunity for the other person to acknowledge her own fears. Or it could have let the other person say no, but perhaps put her arm around the young lady. And maybe there would have been some more human contact when and where it was desperately needed.