Being invisible to each other – We can do better.
Recently, we convened a CircleTalk™ circle at a large apartment building where many of the residents had been neighbors for a long time. After our second group, I observed two of the men (Circle members) waiting for the elevator to get back to their respective apartments on different floors. One of the men pet and praised his dog, Max. The other man smiled and commented, “I have been riding this elevator with you for a long time. I knew the name of your dog but never knew your name until today.”
I had a couple of reactions to this -The first was how wonderful that these two men are finally finding each other, learning about each other and possibly starting a friendship. Maybe they will have a beer together, share a meal or go for a walk (with Max) one day.
At the same time I felt a sense of sadness about the level of disconnection people experience from each other; they are invisible to each other in a world of shared common spaces: elevators, mailboxes and lobbies. I was witnessing the loneliness epidemic. Why is that so? Why does it break my heart that people who might play a role in each other’s lives as neighbors, chess partners or dinner companions seemingly have no way to make that connection?
We know now that isolation in older adults is rarely caused by a single event.
More often, it’s the result of multiple causes including poor physical and mental health, poorly designed communities, and major life events such as loss and retirement. The risk factors at play are daunting and manifest themselves as barriers to connection. The most prevalent causes of isolation include:
- Life transitions and loss, including loss of a valued social role or when spouses and friends die. How does one reach out to new people or establish new community?
- Societal barriers when often few opportunities are available for older adults to contribute and engage with others.
- Poor health and well-being exacerbated by untreated hearing loss (what could be more isolating???) or impaired mobility and frailty.
- Transportation – Lack of accessible and affordable transportation options or merely retiring from driving.
Sadly, the combination of these factors has created a society where it has become a challenge to live in a world where spontaneous and new social opportunities can happen. It is easy to feel invisible to each other. Kind of like the two men in the elevator. Both seeing Max the dog, but never seeing each other. When we are not supported nor comfortable reaching out to a stranger and making an attempt at a new relationship, there is personal uncertainty that such overtures could be construed as presumptuous, awkward or even inappropriate in these times. It is no wonder that many people turn to distractions like iPhones and electronics to keep them occupied, not socially engaged or connected, but temporarily entertained.
We are happy to say that at CircleTalk™, we believe we have an antidote to this potential lonely journey inward that is the experience of many. We want to invite all older adults to our place of social connection, friendship and community. We are designed to immediately communicate to all Circle members that you belong and you have a lifetime of experiences to share with many others seeking the same connection and community. You are seen.