When Social Animals De-Socialize

5 years ago

While meeting up with a friend for a play date today, we got to discussing feelings of loneliness and isolation.  And as usually happens, we get pretty deep and could pretty much save the world if people would only listen.  Our discussion went something like this.


In nature, you generally see two distinct methods of survival.  You see solitary animals, like tigers for instance, that come together to mate, but otherwise stick to themselves.  They provide for their own needs, and the needs of their young themselves.  The other side of the spectrum are social animals, like lions or wolves.  These animals live communally.  They work together to hunt and raise young.  Individuals that leave or are kicked out of the group must either find a new group to join, or more than likely die.


I know this is oversimplified, there are many other methods of survival, but this is basic, so bear with me.


Depending on your belief system, humans and/or human ancestors have been around for thousands or millions of years.  Humans survived by working together.  They were social animals.  Only by working together were puny, defenseless humans able to bring down animals much larger than themselves.  Other group members would forage together, process food together, making it easier on everyone.  The burden was divided among many.  Everyone reaped the benefits.  Food for all.  Shelter for all.  Protection for all.  Social interaction for all.


This is the way humans are meant to be.  Imprinted on us, in our very genetic code, is the need to be with others.  Babies that are denied touch fail to thrive.  Premature infants who are touched or massaged grow faster.


In a relatively minute period of time - pretty much since the Second World War, this way of life has changed.  We no longer live communally.  We now live in "nuclear families".  The change was slower at first.  We now lived in our own homes, but community was still there.  When I grew up, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all lived on the same street as we did.  I ran next door to play with them or other children on the street.  We ate dinner at each others houses, our fathers went hunting together in the fall, and our mothers came together to bake and preserve food.


However, in the last twenty years or so, the shift has continued further.  My cousins and I are spread far and wide.  I have some that live in northern BC, some in Alberta, some on the coast, some in Denmark.  We are lucky to see each other once a year.  We live three hours from my parents, and 10 hours from my husbands parents.  I also live 10 hours from my best friend.  Most people I know live in a similar situation.


What has this shift done to humanity?  It has messed with the natural order.  It has messed with our minds.  How many people struggle with depression and other disorders?  How many people feel overburdened and burned out?  Tasks that used to be divided among many are now supposed to be handled by two and sometimes only one struggling parent.  Stay at home moms struggle with feeling isolated and lonely.  Parents do not have the patience to show their children how to properly complete a task.  They have a huge list to complete and not enough time to complete half of it, let alone stop and explain it to a faltering child.


We are so far removed from community that we don't even know how to have one anymore.  Instead of allowing our children to roam the neighbourhood all day finding friends and building tree forts, we worry about "stranger danger" and keep them locked in the yard.  Do you even know your neighbours?  I don't.  My friend mentioned her husband was in Vancouver.  A city of millions, and not one person acknowledged or even looked at him.


How many of us sit at home, staring at our four walls feeling isolated and lonely?  How many of us try in vain to set up "play dates" (what the heck are those anyways, we didn't have them when I was a kid, we just went out and played with the first kid we found), sign our kids up for a million activities, join fitness clubs, spend hour after hour on Facebook and Twitter, ANYTHING, trying to find social interaction.


We are meant to be with others.  Not just our small family group, but other people too.  Helping each other out with securing food - good, healthy, food; not foods of convenience; helping each other with child-rearing - remember that whole "it takes a village to raise a child"?  It is not natural to live in isolated pockets, only seeing other people in one to two hour chunks of play date time per week.


I don't know what the answer is, but humanity needs to return to it's social animal roots.  Maybe then we all wont need to be medicated to make it through the day.


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