A Ministry of Loneliness?

| November 14, 2018

The government is apparently thinking of introducing a Ministry of Loneliness because research has shown that many people in their late teens and early twenties have indicated that they feel lonely and unsupported at least once a month.

A logical conclusion to this is that this can lead to depression, medical and psychological problems, suicide and possibly being laid open to temptation from organisations like IS or religious extremism.

However, what can any government do to combat this blight? Since retirement I have volunteered as a teacher at a couple of U3A’s which have been set up to disseminate knowledge peer to peer. Many of my students have shown that they are not particularly interested in what I have to offer but come for the social interaction.

During my travels around Australia I have dropped in to various aged care facilities and talked to the residents about aspects of computers and the internet. Most of these centres have public computer facilities with a few trained personnel to operate them but few have instituted any meaningful program designed to show the residents how to operate the machines.

I would like to think that I have at least initiated an interest there in exploring what the internet has to offer. We all build up a library of knowledge, some of which would be of interest to others during our lifetimes, yet many feel their passion could be shared.

The one common factor here is communication. When my two children went to school, they were given one hour per day to socialise with their friends. My two darlings later confided in me that they used the time to share headsets on their music machines. The idea was great; the outcome – not so good.

What would a Ministry of Loneliness achieve? The idea of having paid or volunteer visitors to affected people would be a mere band-aid. We must somehow change the culture of our country. Country towns around Australia have overcome the problem to a great extent by encouraging everyone to be interested in other people – sometimes at the expense of privacy.

Party lines were a great way to share problems but technology has overcome this. I remember a time I rang Tim Fischer in a small town in Western Australia to be told by the operator that he was probably at the butcher’s, so she put me through there. Communication is the essence.

We need to be less anxious about our privacy and more willing to share concerns. Those of us who have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook, etc often only communicate their positives, even exaggerating them and thus creating a false image.

I would like to suggest that we teach children to be more open and trusting of others – share their thoughts and ideas and learn to be able to defend those ideas against opposition. In effect, to debate, discuss and correlate others’ ideas.

Large cities encourage loneliness. I have been fortunate in that everywhere I have lived there has always been someone who has the personality and expertise to get the street or neighbourhood to work together either with regular barbeques, mowing the lawn when a neighbour is away, being aware of a neighbour’s regular activities so that when a change is noticed, to ask if everything is OK.

It would be interesting to know what others feel about how we might combat loneliness.

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Alan Stevenson spent four years in the Royal Australian Navy; four years at a seminary in Brisbane and the rest of his life in computers as an operator, programmer and systems analyst. His interests include popular science, travel, philosophy and he is regular contributor to Open Forum.