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The Daily Paradox

Deal With Loneliness

Nobody should be alone, ever. In our lifetimes many of us will feel lonely, often briefly, sometimes frequently, occasionally always. There are nearly 10bn people on earth, so the concept of loneliness is theoretically absurd. Those who feel lonely know what it means to them, usually cannot express it, employ the feeling to dig into their personalities to rationalise it. They nearly always blame others for their loneliness. And why not?

Loneliness is associated with physical isolation, real or imagined. It is also much deeper than that. Whether you believe in a soul as taught by many religions, there is no question that we have a spirit of sorts embedded in us. We have no idea if it is immortal but are free to believe it is and equally free to believe it isn’t. Both beliefs are acts of faith. Whichever we believe, our faith will only be a real faith if we have doubts about it.

Our early childhood forms most of what we have as personal assets for the rest of our lives. It also forms our internal liabilities. We have no control over who our parents are, when we are born and the circumstances of our childhood family life. We may spend the next fifty years benefitting from a glorious and helpful time or coping with a legacy of torrid problems we were not responsible for. While it can sometimes be helpful to know what causes our character, I think we do better to ask ourselves a question the answer to which will give us a guide to our personal development.

Why will this help our tendency to be lonely?

Loneliness is a condition of the past, of where we have come from and who we have been rather than of where we might go and who we might become. We are not alone, cut off and isolated on a stormy island near the north coast of Scotland without communications of any sort. We are surrounded by the internet, social media and every possible form of distraction. They, incidentally, are sometimes the causes of our loneliness.

I remember my first visit to New York some years after WWII had ended. With little experience of bustle and crowds I became petrified, in the hurly-burly of West Side, that I would somehow disappear, forgotten by everyone. The traffic threatened like a pack of monsters; the pace and ruthlessness, as I saw them, put me on the defensive. I didn’t have the courage to go into a restaurant and order a meal. I lived on nuts and chips.

Then, one day, I sat in my room and stared into the mirror. Not to see if my hair was straight, not to discover how quaint and dishevelled my British clothes were but to ask myself one question. “Who do you want to be?” The answer was easy. “I want to be the man on Madison Avenue, a character like David Ogilvy, someone people ask to help them”. My aspirations grew with every breath I took.

Walking into an advertising agency and asking to see the head of personnel wasn’t that difficult. My strange English accent made an impression. Ogilvy’s success with The Man in the Hathaway Shirt gave me confidence that Brits were respected even if somewhat quirky. I was never lonely in my work life again. David Ogilvy hadn’t rescued me, I had. And  I was always very grateful for his vision.

Loneliness is not just about being alone; it’s about experiencing a lack of satisfying emotional connections. By asking ourselves ‘who we want to be’ and reaching a doable answer we can set about making the contacts to achieve it.

Teach the young to ask themselves ‘who do you want to be?’

Convince the old they still have time to be exactly who they want to be.

Ask yourself.

Good morning

John BIttleston
[email protected] 

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AD-endum: We help people do it all the time

19 July 2023