Unwelcome silence

Unwelcome silence

Victor Mills is to be congratulated in raising the issue of loneliness by getting Nick Jonsson, Managing Director of EGN, to give a very helpful and honesttalk on the subject in a webinar organised by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce a few days ago. This modest and likeable man said things most of us will resonate with. His emphasis on purpose, of course, chimes beautifully with Terrific Mentors International’s own credo on the need to know what we are for and where we are going.

Nick’s checklist of points to bear in mind for the process of recovery from crisis are delightfully practical and, based on my own experience, wholly realistic. But what is loneliness? Is it something imposed on us from without or do we generate our own lonely lives? Much work has been done to explore these questions, with the inevitable answers that we are both perpetrators and victims. Not so easily addressed is the fact that we are irrational beings in some aspects of our lives and for some of the time. Were these episodes predictable we might deal with them better.

The sad fact of moods is they come and go for little obvious reason. Digestion may play a bigger part than we think but a life spent eating properly would be excruciatingly boring. Whatever else we are for, conformity and perfect discipline are not the original purposes of humankind. Our lives are a fusion of abilities, opportunities, frustrations and accidents – and long may they be so. The element of lottery in our passage is scarily exciting.

The puzzle set for humanity was a test of how we could make it less outrageously unfair. That very process is a challenge to loneliness. Whenever we step out of the crowd and announce our intentions of creating greater equity in the world we are on our own. Supporters will come if we succeed but they will go even faster if we fail. A change of habit signals distress and our greatest achievements are seen when we remain steady throughout that upset.

During the current pandemic, Terrific Mentors International has set itself the task of re-engaging with those of our clients who have not kept up with us. We do this for two reasons. First, we learn about our own successes and failures when we track clients’ progress. Many keep us up to date for even as long as thirty years. Inevitably, some don’t and it seemed a good time to try to catch up. I had another reason, too. “Your best new clients are your existing clients” is an old saying that never fails to retain its truth.

I imagined that reconnecting would bring us business and it certainly has done so. And since these people have already been clients, we know they are good customers with whom we can work. An unexpected bonus was discovering a number of people who have been very lonely and not just because of lockdown. Ageing is often a lonely process. It can be glorious in spite of that, but those whose lives have been busy and who have had good connections all over the world do not like to find themselves apparently shut off from the group they built up over so many years.

Helping them shed this loneliness by engaging them in worthwhile work is almost always rewarded with gratitude and a better attitude. It is a small price to pay for their faith in our ability to help them in the past. It requires little effort, minimum time and a trifle of cost to contact them. A culture of closeness is something valuable to bring to the lonely whatever the cause of their isolation. Those who do so are contributing a thoroughly worthy job to someone in the wilderness.

I’m not sure organisations can fill the gap between a hug and loneliness. They may be able to encourage members to help, may even be able to conduct some training. In the end it has to be the individual who observes and then does something about what they see.

Don’t notice these people? Perhaps you need a ‘read people better’ programme!

I think Mother Teresa had it right when asked how many people she had helped.

“I help the one in my arms,” she replied.

It’s the right solution.