Over the last seven months, the majority of us have likely experienced some form of loneliness. The current pandemic has caused physical and emotional separations that impact our lives in big and small ways.
Though published at the end of April, former Surgeon General Vivkek Murthy, MD’s book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, is all the more poignant for its current relevance. While some might wonder why a clinician and former Surgeon General might write about loneliness, the book provides deep evidence that the lack of social connection is a health issue with impacts as real as smoking or lack of exercise.
Together blends sociological exploration with a dash of how-to. In the first two-thirds of the book, Murthy gives us a compassionate look into loneliness and how it is influenced by cultures, evolution, emotions, learned behavior, and circumstances. No two individual’s experience of loneliness are the same and the anecdotes in these sections provide readers with windows to the experience of others, and mirrors that reflect our own. Readers are assured that we aren’t weird or strange or different or wrong for feeling lonely; at least 20 percent of adults report feeling lonely or socially isolated at any given time.
In the last chapters of Together, Murthy continues to provide engaging stories while putting forth some concrete suggestions for how to build more connections for ourselves and our community. Here we can examine how we are connecting with ourselves, with circles of friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers. While some of the introspection and advice might seem simplified, there is still deep value in the process.
Much of what Murthy addresses will take individual and collective effort in shifting cultural norms to enable a more connected society. From looking at how clinical medical care is taught to how we listen at work or how adults talk about and express our emotions around youth. As Murthy states, it would mean “bucking the prevailing assumptions about success and redefining…ambitions in social, rather than financial terms.”
Together encourages us to also be the change that someone else in the world might need. We can be a Mr. Armando and call isolated or homebound seniors; we can be a Michelle Lloyd and normalize our feelings by sharing our experiences of loneliness and mental health issues; we can be a Sonya and Earnest and offer a place to live that enables a low-income community member to reconnect. We can be any number of the examples Murthy provides of taking care of our neighbors and crossing the constructed lines of formality.
Murthy reflects on the fact that “stories make individuals feel connected and promote a sense of belonging.” The examples and information in Together are our current stories. We will see ourselves and our communities in these tales, and we should heed their call to help us understand who we are and to more concertedly bring us together.
“We all have a deep and abiding need to be seen for who we are — as fully dimensional, complex, and vulnerable human beings. We all need to know that we matter and that we are loved,” he writes. “These are the deep-seated needs that secure relationships satisfy, and when they are met, we tend to live healthier, more productive and more rewarding lives.”
We are all experiencing rapid change at both a macro and micro level as a result of the pandemic. Together offers a powerful message to focus on what will see us through.
Jen Lemberger is a Programming Librarian at Santa Barbara Public Library.
Free copies of Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World are available for the community through UCSB Arts & Lectures’ Thematic Learning Initiative in anticipation of Dr. Murthy’s public virtual lecture on Friday, October 23.
Every day, the staff of the Santa Barbara Independent works hard to sort out truth from rumor and keep you informed of what’s happening across the entire Santa Barbara community. Now there’s a way to directly enable these efforts. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.