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Loneliness – Our Very Real “Matrix”

Laurence Fishburne as "Morpheus" in the 90's movie "The Matrix."
Laurence Fishburne as “Morpheus” in the 90’s movie “The Matrix.”

“Let me tell you why you’re here,” said Morpheus. Neo looks on with skepticism and we hear the ambient sound of thunder and rain. Morpheus continues:

“You’re here because you know something. What you know, you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me.”

When I read a recent article on loneliness (the article I featured in last week’s blog), I thought of this iconic scene from the movie “The Matrix.” For those who haven’t seen this almost cult classic, the movie posits a future in which humans have been hard-wired into a giant computer program so that everything they experience is really just part of an elaborate computer program projected into their brains by AI overlords. The machines keep the bodies of the whole human population in huge, subterranean silos where their biological energy powers the machines. The vast majority of humans remain unaware of the reality in which they actually live.

How many friends do we make this way?
How many friends do we make this way?

Loneliness, according to this article, surrounds us so closely that many of us remain unaware of its increasing ubiquity.  It’s true that loneliness has been with us ever since the human race first emerged, but I have the feeling that it’s a bit like “The Matrix:” it’s crept up on us so gradually and with such huge dimensions that we don’t realize the damage that it’s doing. In fact, much in our contemporary lifestyles that we take for granted encourages isolation over community. (More on that in later posts.)

The hero of the film, “Neo,” played by Keanu Reeves, happens to be one of the few humans who’ve begun to detect flaws in the program. It takes one of the other protagonists, “Morpheus,” played by Laurence Fishburne, to alert him to the elaborate charade.

The article to which I referred last week is our “Morpheus” when it comes to the phenomenon of loneliness in our society. I’ll quote again one of the lines from the conclusion of that article. It said, “loneliness will reach epidemic proportions by 2030 unless action is taken (Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review, in Perspectives on Psychological Science, March 2015, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 227-237).” I can imagine that many of us have felt this. We’ve felt it our entire lives, that there’s something wrong with the way our world isolates people, that loneliness isn’t a good thing. But this? Researched evidence that we’ve got an epidemic on our hands that’s actually killing people? Wow!

In “The Matrix,” Morpheus offers Neo a choice. In a much-quoted scene, he says:

Neo's options - blue pill or red pill?
Neo’s options – blue pill or red pill?

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

This article shows us how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Now, we could consider the findings of these researchers who offer us evidence of the tremendous damage loneliness is doing to our society, shrug our shoulders and continue business as usual. We can take a “blue pill.” Or, we can hear that deceptively blasé phrase for the giant and necessary challenge it is: “Unless action is taken.” We can take the red pill. We can decide that we’ll do what each of us can with the people whom we know to take this responsibility seriously. This well researched article bears an implicit plea that we all do what we can to address the issue of loneliness.

Even perceiving oneself as isolated can have negative health effects.
Even perceiving oneself as isolated can have negative health effects.

All kinds of questions need to be asked:

  • How do our work lives encourage or discourage human connection?
  • How well do our faith congregates welcome people and take initiative toward those who my be suffering isolation?
  • How do the physical designs of our communities, neighborhoods, and cities help or hinder human connection and what can we reasonably do about that?
  • How do our attitudes toward success and failure in life affect how we spend our time nurturing relationships?

The Support Team Network continues to address this challenge by training teams of volunteers to organize themselves intentionally to disrupt the isolation of a friend and family in need. It’s our way of acknowledging that there’s something wrong with the world. It’s also our way of doing something to make it right.

Your choice: blue pill or red pill?

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