The Fiction of Isolation

Some days I can feel it. A nasty, physical, emotional and even spiritual feeling of isolation. A thundering silence that surrounds me. A lack of energy that entails passivism – therefore more silence, and an overwhelming feeling of pure isolation. It’s as if I’m alone in this strenuous journey towards a more sustainable society; whatever that might be…
Then a day goes by. The phone is ringing again, emails are flowing, friends & colleagues are reaching out and the energy is back. The journey seems effortless once again, “sustainable and thriving society” has a clear meaning to me and I feel blessed for being engaged with so many other human beings.
A split personality or something deeper than that?…
I would like to believe that it is, indeed, deeper than just being indecisive. No, it must be more rooted and even more earthy; a different layer of connections that influences our mental state of togetherness versus loneliness.
And then I came across this story:
During hurricane Katrina, you would have thought that the live oaks would have died, when in actual fact only four out of over 700 trees died. The main reason is that the oak roots are entwined with the roots of the trees next to it… So when a hurricane hits a live oak in New-Orleans, it doesn’t hit one tree – it hits a whole community.

A live oak at city park New-Orleans
The implication for human society is quite obvious: deeper connections create a stronger community which results in a more resilient society. A modern interpretation of the old tail about the father who asked his sons to break a bundle of sticks, and when they couldn’t – he told them to break them one by one, demonstrating the power of sticking together as a unified group.
When I read about the neighboring oaks relying on each other’s roots, it came to my mind that when we allow stronger connections with other human beings to grow, we create both self-resilience and a societal one. The self-resilience is most likely providing us with new (not to mention renewable) energies which, in turn, make us more friendly creatures, more open-hearted, more trusting and trustworthy. Our energies grow even stronger – and isolation seems like a forgotten episode of life.
But how easy it is to sit now in front of the blank page, and simply write down about the need to entwine your roots with other peoples’ roots (aka building connections, collaborations and friendships…). I mean – the first system thinking lesson, urges us to collaborate and then collaborate some more! Our parents have constantly encouraged us to make friends, each and every educator conveys the message of working together, the organizations we are part of demand and assess our team work. It could not be stated clearer than that: togetherness in, isolation out! Or could it? Is it possible that despite the messages about collaboration showered upon us from childhood all the way through to adulthood and societal mechanisms are actually pushing people to do the exact opposite?
Competition. Hierarchy. Ranks. Grades. Materialistic assessments. Anonymous evaluations. Lack of transparency within organizations and institutions. Medals, trophies, prizes. I could go on and on, but you probably already get the point. With human society continuously pushes individuals to achieve success by stepping on others and fights for success no matter what and who gets hurt along the way, as well as measuring success by a relative curve – it comes as no surprise that its individuals are becoming exactly that: mere individuals.

Isolation, a sore pain by itself, is the surface level of a much deeper failure – the failure to see collaboration as a gift and not as an obstacle or a compromise in the way toward success. While I’m tapping into a different discussion here, I can’t help but wonder if success is actually our ability to partner with other individuals and to place greater value on the journey itself and not just the next destination.
Coming back to feeling connected vs. isolated, I can’t avoid mentioning “friendship accounting”. Have you ever wanted to talk to a friend and insisted on NOT calling him or her, since you were the last one to call? Or because perhaps you feel you are the one who reaches out more frequently – therefore it’s their turn now, damn it!? (Please be honest, no one is judging you!).
I have been there. Several times.
Luckily I’m learning to let go of that “accounting” state, with a lot of practice, for example by that simple quote: “If you miss someone tell them; if you love someone show it”. Yeah, sometimes I still blow it and don’t make that call and then bad energy takes over, isolation strikes, you know the rest… Other days I remind myself I’m not alone in this journey. Some wonderful people are eager to join forces and take this ride together. Others want to listen to me, or tell their story, and some are interested in changing this place into a better one – together. Some will just be there for me, even when I think they have disappeared, but they are right there, willing to continue the conversation right where we left off the last time.
Some suggestions to connect, collaborate and fight isolation:
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. People might have done that before, fought the same battle or a similar one, and survived to tell. Find them and inquire – you might be surprised at how the road suddenly unfolds.
Explore: Who else is active in this arena? How can you combine efforts and complement each other instead of competing? What networks are available to support and inspire?
Imagine and visualize: What’s the worst thing that could happen if you reach out to someone? Rejection? Get over it; it’s their loss. They ignore you? You haven’t lost anything but the 5 minutes it took you to send the email. False hope for collaboration? No harm done, other opportunities will show up.
Put effort into your relationships. Friendships, just like marriage or intimate relationships, require constant work and maintenance. You would never neglect your house, your health or hygiene, and your business, unless you don’t mind becoming homeless, sick, and unemployed. So why should you neglect your relationships with friends – unless you don’t mind becoming lonely? Doesn’t make sense, does it?
Trust. Trust that your friends are out there, even if they are recently hiding under the radar. Trust that your colleagues value you, even if they don’t tell you so each and every day. Trust that like-minded people exist in the world, even if it seems that you’re alone. (You might have to search for them, but trust first). And most importantly – trust yourself that you can create whatever it is that you are meant to create. Whenever I trust myself, I see how naturally the road unfolds, that people I love once again surround me, and that isolation no longer exists.

Written by Davida Ginter