”We cry out only when there is hope that someone may hear us.”   Jean Vanier  Becoming Human

In my last post, I suggested we reach out and replace the growing sense of isolation and loneliness in our communities with belonging. There are many things I’m learning from my year-long attempt to make my own belonging here in my fourth country. One of them is that by reaching out to people, I’m starting to feel more connected.Helen posted an interesting response to my last article:

”Is it about trying to help the “lonely” people find their tribe? Sometimes “lonely” people don’t go out with others to socialise because the groups they have socialised with do not resonate with them – or have they out grown them? “Introverts” may be challenged by “extroverts” and their brash out there behaviour and “extroverts” rarely have time or patience to listen to the quiet people and yet that is how we grow, by interacting with each other. So many thoughts on this topic! Reduce it all down to Love versus Fear ?’’

So many good questions.

Where to start. Yes. Let’s replace fear of the unknown with love. Or if not love — I am no saint, no Gandhi — with an openness and willingness. Even just an attempt.I’m not asking people to open their doors and start feeding the homeless. I’m suggesting we open our eyes. That we take off the blinkers we wear to protect us. That we ask ourselves, what are the blinkers really protecting us from?

True belonging is about respect and acceptance. What does respect look like? To me, it is listening. Because when we listen and really hear what another person is saying, we see them as equals. If everyone reached out in respect, we would appreciate the introverted, not bull-doze over them. (Remembering that introversion is not a synonym for loneliness.)

I don’t know if we can help lonely people find their tribe, but I do know that interactions with strangers — many of whom I’ll never meet again — have changed me. They have cheered me and they have made me feel connected outside my middle-class circles.

Sometimes I’ve needed help and a sea of people have walked by me. When I was returning to Paris in the early 1990s, I was crossing a busy road and my overstuffed suitcase with the wobbly old wheels toppled over and one of my other bags spilled out onto the wet dirty pavement. In the early morning rain I was trying to right my suitcase, pick up my belongings and keep my handbag away from pickpockets. No one stopped to help. People walked around me. Stepped over my items. Like I was invisible.

Well that’s just Paris, I hear you saying. Actually no.


Picture it: Brisbane Australia, husband overseas, no family, attack of acute gout-like symptoms in my right foot. I leave the girls with a babysitter, drive myself to the doctor and by the time I leave the doctor and drive to the pharmacy, the pain is so acute I can barely walk. I drive with my left foot. I grab onto a shopping trolley from the local grocery store and leaning on it, hobble to the pharmacy. (As it turns out it wasn’t gout but it was a crystal formation in my big toe which meant the pain was excruciating.) Tears roll down my cheeks as I leave the pharmacy and limp back to my car. I couldn’t walk for another week.What did people do? They stared at me and looked away. As I approached my car, one elderly woman asked if I needed help. She walked beside me in a spirit of togetherness.

I’m sure we’ve all had experiences where we’ve obviously needed help and we were ignored.

What happens when our needs are not so obvious?

If a third of the population feels lonely then we’re likely meeting someone every day who needs to connect. We can start small. Often, here in Australia, I’ve been at a gym or the climbing wall or in a shopping centre and I’ve talked to someone next to me, only to be met with a blank stare. I watch the metal shutters slamming down their faces: don’t talk to me, I don’t know you.

What if we left the shutters up?