Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Isolation - it's becoming the norm and we are facilitating it.

Following on from a discussion with parents of children suffering the same condition my children have on how isolating it can be, I was reminded of my past work on Social History and the sad trend for social isolation as communities break down. There are many reasons for this - increased geographical and economic mobility being the most obvious. Our lives are also so frantically busy that we constantly try to juggle everything and have precious little time to support any notion of "community". Families live miles - often hundreds of miles apart and grandparents frequently continue to work full time as their lives continue to be hectic and demanding.

This "have it all society" is destroying communities, the backbone of society and ultimately our collective emotional wellbeing. Human Beings need roots, need to be part of a bigger whole and most importantly, they need to belong. Denying this whilst fostering a virtual social reality is unsustainable and leading to emotional unhappiness and the breakdown of Society.

Now I'm no Socialist, far from it, and neither do I advocate any kind of economic or social equality. This for me isn't really about wealth, income, aspirations and opportunities, it's about caring. About wanting to be part of something bigger than the self.

I always wanted a large family and have struggled to reconcile my ideal with the reality which is often dealing with symptoms of chronic illness and the behaviour challenges of Autism and ADHD. But that's our reality and our family and however tough it often is I kick back at the urge to abandon all hope of us functioning as that all important central unit. True, there are times when "divide and conquer" works best, when six of us en masse just doesn't work, but in my opinion that is one of the unique advantages of a larger family. There are simply more people to go round.

With Christmas on the horizon it's the obvious time to focus on the next level of belonging - the extended family. Whether your family are local or international, that next level of belonging really matters, and most people understand that. But what many are missing is the sense of belonging to the next level up - we live our busy lives hurtling to and from from our homes with little thought for our neighbours. When was the last time you connected with your local village network? Got involved with your suburb/town/street? The Street parties of 2012 to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee were a wonderful but anomalous event in the isolated existence of many. Too few of us find the time or inclination to get involved in anything more than the essential daily grind.

It IS a big ask to jump out of the hamster wheel of life and take a look around though. A scary thought that we won't be able to jump back in where we left off, or that we might get left behind if that wheel is in fact a ball heading somewhere. (you know how I love my hamster analogies ;)  ) But those people I know who do give back receive far more than they give.

Maslows Hierachy of Needs (above)  includes a Sense of Belonging as a fundamental base for self esteem. Yet we increasingly try and exist without it. Like the majority of people my age I benefit hugely from Social Media, and try to give as much back - but it isn't enough on its own. I miss the daily social interaction with real people, as my children have got older there are fewer playdates, no toddler groups, and it's even longer since I worked. I've tried volunteering, but always, ALWAYS there are restrictions, barriers against community involvement which are now everywhere, actively preventing us from participating, linking up, getting involved.

A member of an Autism support forum I am a member of today explained how her son cannot send Christmas cards to his friends because it is against school policy to give out class lists because it is a breach of confidentiality. I was completely stunned by this but it really sums up where our society is heading. Over the three years my second son was at his previous school I only got to know two other parents. Two. And during that entire time he never received a single party invitation, or invitation to tea with another child. And the school wondered why their PTA received no real support and struggled to organise events which were then poorly attended? 

We are straitjacketing ourselves and our children, preventing them and us from making essential community connections in the name of Health and Safety. Those three words guaranteed to precipitate a response from anyone you say them to are actively reducing our chances of belonging, of being part of a community.

SO it's all very well for the Government to bang on about "Big Society", but Society doesn't stand a chance in the modern world without active support, instead of constantly erecting barriers which actively prevent and inhibit it. CRB checks have taken on a life of their own, and the perceived threat and endemic suspicion of others perpetuated by those who should be encouraging rather than scaremongering is dissolving those community jigsaw pieces and reducing their size. 

Its going to take a lot more than a bit of volunteering to put our Society back together again. We need to start growing and nurturing our communities first and then start fitting them together. I only hope we can - before it's too late. 


  1. Really interesting. We relocated when Maxi was little and Mini just born so I missed out on bonding with new mums, but I made a huge effort and now have a local BF. Without her I would be lost.

  2. I completely agree with you, we've literally moved to a new place every year and it's been very challenging to integrate into real life society. With no family or established support groups, I've had to be resourceful in ways I never thought I could! People seem to have reorganised their priorities not realising the rebound harm that is at the end of this socially narrowing path. Brilliantly written and very relevant read, thank you!

  3. I don't think we are becoming more isolated. My community does a lot together - we just had a halloween party set up by one of the moms and everyone was invited. But yes I can see how it could be isolating in the wrong places.

  4. We too have had this issue about not giving out lists of children due to confidentiality, it is crazy to think that like you say if this is the 'Big Society' how will it progress?


  5. I wish there was a good solution to binding communities together...I don't know what the solution is but we definitely seem to have gone backwards as a society in this regard.

  6. I completely agree with this... I find that the more a country 'develops' technologically the more it actually falls apart socially. In many less developed countries they have an amazing community spirit and I guess it's because they NEED it, and we used to have it here but we replace it with things like material possessions and technology. So many things could be fixed by better communities and support systems, I see it every day in my job - looking after new mums... the ones with great close knit families and communities have much lower rates of PND, they also have much higher BF rates... interesting stuff.

  7. I think the internet helps create bonds and communities. It may not be face to face communication (although Face time and Skype is) but sites such as Facebook with pages and groups can strengthen community bonds. It may not be a traditional community but it community it can be never the less.

  8. I found a real culture shock coming from a mountain village in Italy where everyone knows everyone back to the UK where people pass you in the street without a nod or an acknowledgement. I think I have more online friendships than offline these days and I look forward to meet ups with those people too.

  9. I found my own village in a big world - it is made up of odd bods and misfits like me, and I wouldnt cope without it!

  10. I find London can be isolating, despite so many people living and working in the capital. A friendly 'hello' often seems to be treated with suspicion and then there's the unspoken rule of not making eye contact with anyone while on public transport.

  11. I also have had issues with my son wanting to send cards out to his year group but forgetting a few names (60 names is a lot for a young boy). He had a couple of upset friends because of it. It's such a shame that we feel we need to be suspicious of each other nowadays, like you say with the CRB checks, etc. I try to get involved with the community as much as I am able to, being restricted by jobs, time, etc. I think that everyone needs to be given some TIME to find real, face to face community again. I think that Sundays should be given back to everyone as a day of rest and being with family and friends, instead of feeling like just another work day for many.


Many thanks for taking the time to comment, I really value your responses.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...