(COVID) 19 — The Loneliest Number

Stop me if you’ve heard this story. Some years ago now, it’s been reported that a student asked famed cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead what she considered to be the first sign of civilization. Her response? A 15,000-year-old fractured femur that had broken, then healed. Connecting hip to knee, the femur is the longest bone in the human body, and when broken, it takes about six weeks of rest to heal — six weeks during which this person would have been completely reliant on members of their community.

What does it say about humanity that our earliest ancestors were inclined to so thoroughly uplift and care for each other in times of need?

Put simply? Humans, by our very nature, are pack animals. Left to our own devices, we are instinctively driven to offer aid and support. And not only that, but when we ourselves are beaten down, struggling, or sick, medicine only does half the job — comfort and companionship from others carries us the rest of the way.

And there’s a lot of research on loneliness to prove Margaret right. Did you know that being lonely is highly correlated with heart disease, depression, cognitive decline, and even an earlier death? Would you believe it’s been found to be even more dangerous to heart health than a crappy diet or zero exercise?

Enter COVID. It’s harder than usual these days to get out there and cultivate our relationships with other people. All those usual structures of connectivity and community are mostly on hold. What solutions for loneliness do we cobble together in the meantime?  

It’s good to remember that it’s okay to start small (a phone call, a text, an impromptu Facetime or Zoom meeting). The mere act of reaching out can help stir those positive, altruistic, community-centric feelings to life.

Check in regularly with your pod, squad, bubble, quaranteam — whatever you want to call it. Try brunch over Zoom every week, or a socially-distanced beer on Fridays — on the porch, in the yard, somewhere outside and properly spaced.

Got time on your hands? Call someone you haven’t spoken to for a while, from a different time or part of your life. That can be shockingly satisfying and invigorating.

Join or start a group project with like minded altruists to make the world a better place. That way you get good company plus meaning, purpose, a joint goal - what’s better than that? Work virtually for a cause or a political campaign.

And when you can’t get together, indulge in some walks down memory lane. Browse through old photographs, letters, keepsakes, pictures on the fridge, social media, home videos… anything that calls back joyful feelings and nostalgia for the not-so-distant or even very distant past.

And if a little extra help is needed along the way, we’ve got a few audios you might find useful to get the ball rolling:

So, nourish that pack animal nature. Stick by your tribe. Care for your people. Be the companionship you long for. And guess what? You might even forestall heart disease, sidestep depression, stay cognitively sharp, and die a lot later!

Feisty Margaret Mead would robustly approve.