On the way home from Chicago yesterday, I listened to a podcast about the The Lonely American Man. Suicide rates for men have spun out of control. Seven out of 10 suicides in 2016 were white males. Middle-aged men seem to be particularly vulnerable. (Statistics on suicide)
If you are interested, please listen to the podcast, but in a nutshell they say the lack of emotionally-connected male friendships and social support are killing our men. Our culture encourages men to shut down their feelings which cripples them in creating strong social ties. And many men depend on their wives and girlfriends to be social coordinators. If they lose that relationship, they then lose their community. And many don’t know how to start again.
I wonder how much of the frustration in our society would dissipate if people – and men in particular – had the skills and encouragement to share their feelings. One supportive conversation can defuse anger and stop an avalanche of fear. Our culture encourages us to bottle up our emotions or pretend they aren’t there, and that’s not healthy. It’s not good for individual health, and it’s very unhealthy for relationships.
I was in a training class this week in Chicago. In the past, the class would have bonded. We would have chatted at breaks and maybe even gone out to lunch together. Now, people head for their laptops or to a quiet corner with their phone. It felt lonely, and it’s not conducive to learning either. The instructor didn’t even do introductions at the beginning of the class, so I had no clue who any of these people were or where they were from. I finally got up the nerve to interrupt my neighbor and ask her about her passion for politics. On the last day I went to lunch with another woman in the class. It was the best part of the week. I felt a bit awkward initiating those conversations but I’m glad I took the risk.
The main point of the podcast mirrored what I experienced this week. You have to make it a priority to talk to people. It is really hard to make the first move. But if I don’t make the first move, I stay isolated. What if my next best friend is standing beside me in line this morning, and I never open my mouth? Even worse, what if that man in front of me is contemplating suicide out of loneliness and one friendly conversation might make a difference?
Could you bring yourself to hop over that hurdle of fear, put down your phone and start a conversation with somebody today? What if you just experimented with it once a day for a week? It could help you feel more connected, but it also might make someone else’s day.