Although the 21st century man is supposed to be living in a small, flat world, where distance and time are no barriers to forging relationships and engaging in meaningful conversations with people around the world, a huge number of individuals still feel lonely and left out. Why is it that advancement in communication technology has not assisted in enhancement of human relationships? Why is it that instead of bringing people together, global development has taken them further apart?
The loneliness plague
We fully understand that “no man is an island” and that humans are social beings. However, statistics indicate that loneliness is rampant in our society today among all levels of the social ladder, especially among school-goers. Loneliness is a feeling that one gets in the absence of meaningful interactions. It is usually accompanied by boredom and aimlessness. Subsequently, a lonely individual feels discouraged to carry out his everyday tasks and routines because of the loss of meaning. Eventually, the lonely individual blames himself for his weakness. He finds that others respond to his loneliness with irritation and a lack of empathy, and is further led into isolation, sometimes chronically so.
Living in a fast-paced world where quality equals efficiency, humans have invented myriad of ways to shorten operations to maximize production. By doing so, we have deprived ourselves of many the opportunities to socialize and acculturate with other humans. For example, in the agrarian society, harvesting was a great get-together time where the whole village comes out to help members of the farming families. Once completed, there were celebrations, sharing, talking, singing, dancing, story telling, etc. in short, there were lots of meaningful interactions among people. Loneliness would have been an alien term for people in such a society. The opposite is true of our society today.
Loneliness in school
Schools are also characterized as fast-paced, a typical working day starts with a ring of a bell, followed by a tight schedule of teaching and learning of one subject after another (surprisingly, there has never been a period allocated for socializing), short breaks in between classes that are also stressful as children are closely monitored and supervised for wrongdoings, and finally the day ends with a ring of a bell again.
Both teachers and students do not have sufficient time to loosen up and relate to each other as regular humans. They are pre-occupied with playing distinct, highly rigid roles and are constantly anxious about playing their roles well, in order to avoid punishment or other painful outcomes. Unfortunately, schools have always placed greater value on productivity rather than human relationships. This has ushered chronic cases of loneliness into schools. It is not surprising that many students feel isolated and under-perform because they don’t find life particularly meaningful to them. Loneliness is also the major cause of suicide among students, worldwide.
Many progressive schools especially in the United States combat loneliness by providing sustainable emotional support to students through student advisory programs. These schools set aside each week for students to meet one-on-one and/or in small groups with advisors (volunteer teachers, who act as a mentors) to focus on character and civic development, as well as discuss their personal and academic goals. Students are given sufficient opportunities to talk about day-to-day issues, define their values, develop trusting relationship with adult advocates, sharpen communication skills, participate in service-learning projects, and explore what it takes to be one’s best and bring out the best in others, in any circumstance. Deliberately providing meaningful interactions is the best cure for loneliness in school.