The internet is a good companion, but man is made up of emotions, so prioritize humans; consider outings as important as work; meet new people, do yoga, write a diary, understand each other
Syeda Anmol Ali
Today I want to share thoughts about a topic that has become a problem for more than half of the world.
When I was about 16 years old, I got a new hobby – Love to explore the world. Who are the people, what are their goals, why are they happy with their lives and why they feel unhappy? One day in my college, a discussion started and I gave a party spiel in which I discussed why people live alone, and received an award.
Today I would like to define ‘loneliness’ through an anthropological lens. Many psychologists, philosophers have worked on it and described it in their own way. Someone called it a disease. Someone called it ‘lacking’. But a female anthropologist Chikako Ozawa-de Silva described it differently. Chikako Ozawa – de Silva from China, is associated professor of Anthropology at Emory University and the author of psychotherapy and religion in Japan.
During the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, Chikako Ozawa highlighted the need for social connection. Technology has allowed many of us to connect even when we are physically remote. Our need to connect with others is the very thing that creates the potential for loneliness. The loneliness should not be pathologized as a disorder, but rather seen as a natural expression of what it means to be a social being, born into and existing within a society. However, this does not mean that we should or can do nothing to address the spreading pandemic of loneliness, which is as real a threat to human happiness and flourishing as any infectious disease.
Earlier work by these authors reveals the multi-faceted nature of loneliness. Some forms of loneliness are constructive and conducive to creativity (Ozawa-de Silva, 2007; Rasmussen, 2020), while others are debilitating. For example, Parsons (2020) notes that existential philosophers such as Weiss (1973) and Moustakas (1961) have suggested certain typologies of loneliness that include both constructive and negative forms.
There are many types of loneliness
There are many types of loneliness – Feeling lonely after ditching someone is “lonely”. To confine one’s troubles to one’s self, despite having many friends, is loneliness۔. Despair is loneliness, while lack of credibility breeds loneliness, lack of social relationships creates loneliness. Similarly lack of interest is loneliness.
Hertz cites the work of Hannah Arendt, who wrote that for people facing ‘isolation and lack of normal social relationships… it is through surrendering their individual selves to ideology that [they] rediscover their purpose and self-respect.’
Here I would discuss why people feel alone in Pakistan’s 220 million strong population.
Nowadays, a drama “Tere Bin” is being liked a lot on social media. Its two main characters “Meerab” and “Murtasim” are ruling the hearts of people, but has anyone considered what was the real reason behind the step taken by “Meerab”? Yes, it is “Loneliness”.
Meerab is the daughter of a lawyer who has been adopted by her. Since childhood, Meerab was her father’s babysitter, then when she grew up, she suddenly found that she was someone else’s daughter, due to which she lost her trust in her father. Her marriage too was an unwilling one done to a person Murtasim. Meerab and Murtasim both suffer from loneliness in their respective places. After all these mishaps, Meerab feels that she has lost her identity. Second, she is being readied for a relationship with an unwanted person that she cannot mentally accept. Then the story comes to the point where Meerab leaves her husband’s house. After leaving, she goes to her parents but turns back without meeting them because she feels that her parents will send her to Murtsam’s house as usual and will not understand her.
Same way, Murtsam also becomes a victim of loneliness because he loves his wife immensely and cannot bear her loss.
There are three reasons for loneliness in this story. First is not understanding each other and a feeling that no one will understand them. Second is because losing a dear thing and getting disappointed makes them lonely. Third is because they don’t share their thoughts with anyone because of their attitude.
The 2nd reason has been worked out by two anthropologists. Pike and Crocker (2020) conclude with O’Nell’s (1996) definition of loneliness as ‘an idiom that seeks to reclaim the very relationships and identities it heralds as missing, that encompasses both the meaning and the meaninglessness of pain and loss.
The same way, a character “Kashaf” from a past drama “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” is also seen as a masterpiece of loneliness. Kashaf is a girl from a poor house who often suffers from complexes. Her father’s infidelity with her mother and his second marriage. Because of the reasons, Kashaf feels strong hatred towards men. Kashaf’s mother and his sisters bear all the burdens of the house. Kashaf is a realistic girl but she feels lonely. She feels that God favors rich people, God will never change their circumstances and she is the poorest helpless and lonely girl in this world. Even after becoming a CSS officer, Kashaf’s loneliness and depression do not go away, which creates difficulties for her married life. Looking at Kashaf, it seems that not having social connection, being closed in oneself, suffering from inferiority complex also makes a person suffer from loneliness.
Researchers have started to view loneliness as a growing epidemic
According to the ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’, one in 20 adults in the UK report feeling lonely often or always. More than three in five Americans across generations also describe themselves as lacking companionship and feeling misunderstood. Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May also said loneliness is ‘a sad reality of modern life’. Researchers have started to view loneliness as a growing epidemic. Isolation, many of these studies contend, is closely associated to early deaths. So much so that it increases their chance of early demise by loneliness, rather than, say, obesity. Ironically, old people living in modern, individualized societies are more likely to be isolated than those living in predominantly dominant cultures. Those who feel they’re misfits have it worse, like old immigrants.۔
Nowadays people stick to internet for long hour that may be due to business purpose, academic resources, social networking or entertainment. Internet has enlightened every industry and is helping people to keep themselves in touch with rest of the world. With just a single click a person can get connected with the other part of the world. One touch of keyboard is enough to open gateways of knowledge for the knowledge seeker while remaining at home. Similarly, one can get himself entertained by watching movies, videos or any other entertaining stuff. Not only can internet act as a powerhouse of entertainment for people but also it provides unlimited information on various aspects of life. But slowly gradually we become an internet edicts.
Loneliness is very harmful to human health. Loneliness causes mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, lack of interest of regular routine.
One of my interviewers Fatima said that she has been suffering from depression for four years. Fatima belongs to a good family, she had a good house as well as good in-laws but she still felt lonely which led to depression. The reason for her loneliness was her husband. Fatima said that everything was perfect. Fatima and her husband were socialist and independent minded, due to which Fatima agreed to marry him. But when she got pregnant, her husband had strange demands such as that the child should not be a girl and neither black nor brown. Fatima said that many times she took her husband’s words as a joke, but with time, her husband started pressuring her due to which she became depressed. Many times Fatima explained to her husband that it is all in the hands of Allah, but because her husband was socially active, he wanted fair and beautiful child for show off in his circle. Her trust was broken, her open-minded husband was now stereotyped in this condition, and started beating her.
When Fatimah spoke to the family, they told Fatimah that after having a child, the husband will recover and understand. Now Fatima felt lonely, no one understood her. The family members were ignoring her condition. Gradually, Fatima began to feel that she was mentally ill. At 24, she was worried about what would happen if it was a girl But it happened that a boy was born And her husband’s behavior became as loving as before but now Fatima was mentally scared, she used to wake up scared by seeing bad dreams at night, her condition was getting worse day by day. Due to loneliness, she did not tell anyone and passed four years in depression. There were problems in the second delivery due to which her husband divorced her, but now Fatima is normal. After all this, she immersed herself in social relations and supported women like her (she is a very famous woman, here I have used a fictitious name).
An essay by Natasha Japanwala on loneliness among Karachi’s youth explores the distinct experience of loneliness in our country. She argues that people feel lonely even though they are surrounded by family because they cannot be their authentic selves. As one of her interviewees eloquently put it, “Loneliness is a feeling like you can’t express who you are… I feel a crisis because I just can’t be myself.”
In the West, such feelings are exploited by far-right groups that create what Hertz calls ‘tribal experiences’ (large rallies, festivals) to draw in the alienated. In our context, this space is filled by religious, extremist and hyper-nationalist groups, and tribal experiences range from anti-minority rallies to widespread support for stifling dissent and mob violence.
Keep the tone perfect because the tone has more impact than the words
Fifty-six per cent of these lonely people have fewer friends compared to five years ago, a number expected to increase. The most common reason for loneliness among seniors is a lack of social support, which is loosely defined as having hobbies, a group of trusted friends, close family members or being a part of a group, either religious or otherwise. In an age shaped by technology, the issue of social isolation goes beyond geographical boundaries.
Now the question comes that what is its treatment? How to control it? As seen in the case of Fatima, how she prevented herself from going in that direction – Strengthen your social bonds, develop enough confidence to express concerns freely. Don’t judge their problems based on your experiences, understand their problems. It is true that the internet is a good companion, but man is made up of emotions. So prioritize humans as well as the internet and consider outings as important as work. Meet new people, do yoga, write a diary, understand each other and keep the tone perfect because the tone has more impact than the words.
Syeda Anmol Ali is 3rd year student of Anthropology at the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Sindh, Jamshoro