Long before COVID-19 emerged on the scene like poop in a punchbowl, there was another pandemic that had taken hold of our society.
The pandemic of loneliness.
We are supposedly more connected than ever, with the little internet-enabled devices we carry with us everywhere. And yet loneliness, depression, and suicide are at all-time highs. Kim and I noticed this phenomenon well before COVID, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem bigly.
This leads me to think about the connection between two seemingly unrelated movies that came out the same year: the wonderfully uplifting A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks at Mister Rogers, and the disturbingly violent, award-winning film, The Joker, with Joaquin Phoenix in the title role.
The greatest talent Fred Rogers had – and there were many – was his extraordinary ability to make everyone around him feel seen. It seems as though he had an otherworldly ability to make every person he encountered feel like the most important person in the world.
If you pay close attention to The Joker, a big reason Arthur Fleck transformed into a diabolical murderer was that he felt unseen. He was constantly ignored, passed by, and walked over.
Which led to disastrous results.
In this pandemic of loneliness, many people are yearning to feel seen. The good news is that we can all follow the lead of Mister Rogers and be part of the solution. There is no special talent involved, no barrier to entry. In fact, Fred’s wife said she hated when people called him a living saint, because it made it seem like what he did was unattainable. The truth is he really worked at it.
He practiced the intention of attention.
Try closely observing the people you encounter today. Look for something they do well or a trait you appreciate about them. Then – and this is the important part – tell them. You could point out something positive you notice about a young person in your life. Thank a team member for a job well done, highlighting something tangible they contributed. Or give the lady in the supermarket checkout lane a simple but specific compliment.
Don’t worry if you feel like you’re pointing out the obvious. I can assure you that most people underestimate their good qualities and will benefit from the reminder.
The intention of attention will make you look like a superhero in that person’s eyes. Your small act can be a game-changer in their life.
Now, the flip side of the coin is when you are feeling lonely or unseen yourself. What then?
It’s natural to want to be noticed; to feel seen. But sometimes you have to be willing to allow yourself to be seen first.
I grew up painfully shy, with a preference to stay sequestered away from uncertainty. But that is not what life is for. Eventually, my faith saved me in that regard. It gave me the courage to step out, speak up, and be vulnerable. My faith continues to remind me that even though I may feel lonely, I am never alone.
I think about the people who have attended an Escape Adulthood Summit by themselves. That takes an incredible amount of bravery, especially for those who are introverts. I know how hard it can be to put yourself out there, but in my experience, good things usually come when I do.
It’s hard to be seen when you keep yourself hidden away.
Seek out a like-minded community. Plug into a local church or get involved with a civic club. If you resonate with our work, you’ll probably dig the Wonder & Whimsy Society. And there’s also the Escape Adulthood League, our free social network of Adultitis Fighters.
The important thing is to show up. Contribute. Volunteer. Maybe even seek out someone who seems even more lonely than you.
The pandemic of loneliness is beatable, but it does require action.
Practice the intention of attention.