Not Only the Lonely
This week, the Harvard Business Review ran a very interesting cover story. I encourage everyone to read it (you can click here). You will see that it was not written by a business professor or by an economist. The article is by a doctor—and not by just any doctor. It’s written by the Surgeon General of the United States who served from 2014 to 2017, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy. In the article he makes this revelation: “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.” Dr. Murthy goes on to explain that the effects of loneliness have impacts on one’s health similar to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
I understand the reason that Dr. Murthy is reaching out to change workplace culture. For millions and millions, the workplace is where we spend the majority of our waking hours. And it is also the place where so much of the stress of our lives comes from. I am all for finding ways to reduce feelings of isolation at work, and I heartily commend his suggestions to all workplaces. But his suggestions only begin to scratch the surface of the problem.
Far too many of us are painfully craving connection and intimacy. And I differ, as many ministers might, with the conclusion that turning to a workplace for the connection, the meaning, the depth of understanding and compassion Dr. Murthy describes is as sound a plan as his article suggests. At the root of a workplace will always be that money may require letting people go. The work and effort we invest in workplace connections sits alongside the knowledge that a bad quarter, not getting that next grant, or not getting scheduled enough to make rent could mean that workplace connections could be cut off if we are let go or need to look for work elsewhere.
A Life’s Work
By all means, let us connect honestly and deeply with our coworkers and unite around causes and work that bring us fulfillment. Yes, we should all do this. But let us also turn to the places we hold dear in our hearts and to those people with whom we share those places. In places of holy healing, in places where we share in the mystery that is this universe we inhabit, we might know ever more, ever deeper, ever growing connections with each other. Dr. Murthy is clear that the quality of the connections we make is more important than the quantity. I believe that the quality of friendship, companionship, and kindness available to people connected to a spiritual community can be one of the most powerful forces for good in a person’s life they have ever known.
What We Can Offer
In the coming months, I pray that we can work together to better understand the needs of those members of our own community who are experiencing loneliness. And I mean all members of our community. As Dr. Murthy’s article points out, children and teens make up a rapidly increasing share of those suffering in this way. I deeply hope to hear from any person who is struggling with loneliness and isolation. I want to work together as a community toward ways of caring more deeply and more effectively for one another through this epidemic. I know we can.
Blessings to you all,