We Need A Minister For Belonging
In January of this year Britain appointed Tracey Crouch to take on the new role of Minister for Loneliness.
Loneliness is a feeling. A feeling of isolation and social disconnection; regardless of whether one is with people or not. And it matters.
Loneliness (feeling disconnected), along with social isolation (actual absence of social contact) and living alone are now well recognised as substantial health hazards. A large meta-analysis out of Brigham Young University shows that these factors increase our likelihood of dying by 26%, 29% and 32% respectively.
And people in the UK and all over the world are feeling it.
A national measure of wellbeing of older adults (52+) in the UK revealed a third (34%) felt lonely some of the time or often and this rose to nearly a half (46%) for all those aged 80 years and over. Similar findings were seen in a national survey of American adults with 35% of respondents aged 45+ feeling lonely.
Back in Australia, Lifeline’s The Loneliness Survey revealed a staggering 60% of Australians said they ‘often feel lonely’ and 82.5% said that loneliness is increasing in society.
So, I applaud the UK for paying attention. I commend their desire for wanting to act.
However, I find the idea of appointing a Minister for Loneliness vaguely depressing.
I find it a little disturbing to have all that attention focused squarely on the negative, directing us to what we DON’T want.
Do we focus on what we don’t want or on what we do want?
As human beings we know our energy goes where our focus and attention goes.
And language is a powerful means of directing that attention. It reminds me of the difference between saying Please don’t walk on the grass versus Please do walk on the path. In the first instance, the focus is squarely on what we don’t want to happen, and most people will think more about walking on the grass! The second phrase is asking for what we do want to happen, and our attention and actions will tend to align this way.
Our mind is drawn to the key words and actions. Do we want to be drawn down the path of loneliness? Or to something else?
Language also has the power to transfer emotion and well as information. It can inspire and lift us up, provide hope, offer possibilities and potential … or not. I don’t find the idea of a Minister for Loneliness terribly inspiring. It doesn’t make me feel hopeful or optimistic.
What about a Minister for Belonging though? Or a Minister for Connection?
These titles bring with them a sense of warmth and hopefulness. They point towards a positive outcome. I feel far more uplifted and more motivated to engage with the …. Issue?
No, I want to engage with the opportunity !
The opportunity to create connected, thriving social communities where everyone feels safe, valued and a true sense of belonging.
As human beings we are wired for social connection and belonging. That’s what we do want! Individually, collectively and as a global society. So, let’s just say that.
In 2016 the United Arab Emirates (UAE) appointed the country's first Minister of State for Happiness - Her Excellency Ohood bint Khalfa Al Roumi.
Whilst I don’t wish to comment on the policies of either the UK or the UAE; on paper I know which Minister I would be more drawn to engage with.
As well as a Minister for Belonging, we could appoint a Minister for Thriving or Flourishing too.
Or if looking for something a little more … ministerially inclined … I’d recommend a “Minister for Positive Social Integration and Flourishing Communities”!
The language we use is a powerful influencer and director of our attention and belief in what is possible. The wiser wielding of words is both warranted and worthwhile.