Jenny Robin Jones blog
This blog examines how events catching our attention round the world relate to human fundamentals. Such as the need for personal identity, belonging in community, belonging in a nation or an economy. It also picks up belonging and the social media, belonging to place, belonging in the universe. Can we? And how?

And what happens when we DON'T belong? Loneliness, health issues, premature death. Alienation, extremism of all kinds, murder and mayhem. Not For Ourselves Alone looks in depth at how we develop a sense of belonging. The blog will stick to practicalities. What are people around the world doing about belonging and how are they tackling loneliness and alienation?

Readers will also find helpful info on the nitty gritty of writing and publishing, New Zealand writers and New Zealand for visitors.

Loneliness Goes Global

Posted Tuesday July 24, 2018

Loneliness goes Global

Alone Benches Blue Jeans 1134204

It’s six months now since Tracey Crouch was appointed the world’s first Minister for Loneliness in the UK, but it still feels a bit strange. The idea of stopping people feeling lonely feels utopian, like something a state shouldn’t be meddling with and yet society is failing so badly that an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff has become necessary. In Britain it’s been found that over nine million people often or always feel lonely, but it's not just a UK problem; I have begun collecting data and am receiving reports of worrying levels of loneliness in countries all over the world. Fresh from a meeting on the subject with Danish and Norwegian ministers, Crouch told Huffpost UK,

“A lot of people have come to see me. Canada, UEA, Sweden, Japan, Iceland - I cannot think of a region in the world that didn’t follow this up. Germany has been massively interested. We expected Europe, but a significant number of African countries are reporting on it as well. New Zealand said ‘we are watching what you do’, so no pressure there then!”

What is loneliness? Psychologist-researchers, Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy B. Smith have pinpointed loneliness as the discrepancy between the number and quality of the relationships that you desire and those you actually have. If your network of friends and family give you all you want socially, even if they are very few or you see these people rarely, you won’t be lonely.

My mother, for example is 97. She lives in a retirement village and walks with difficulty and pain. Dad died ten years ago and she spends a great deal of time alone but says she is never lonely. I know that in her situation I would be lonely but she’s not. Apparently there’s a loneliness gene which affects how distressed you feel from social disconnection. I suspect I have it – but not from Mum.

Unfortunately, more and more people find themselves lacking the number and quality of relationships they desire and we are daily learning more about the effects of loneliness on health. Loneliness raises our levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, type II diabetes, dementia and lead to depression and suicide. Loneliness disrupts sleep, damages your immune system and your brain. It can also increase your risk of dying prematurely as much as smoking - and more than obesity.

The health effects are so serious and the problem is happening on such a scale that one of the major reasons for setting up the Ministry for Loneliness was the fear of a National Health Service blowout. Scientists are now looking at which sectors of a population are most seriously affected and what can be done to reduce the risks.

So loneliness is a health issue - physical and mental. But to look at it purely in terms of personal health would be a big mistake because it ignores the active role played by our societies in engendering and exacerbating the problem. Ongoing solutions to loneliness try to help sufferers find a sense of belonging in their lives. Furnished with this. much of their problem will disappear. But if we don't examine modern society and understand its tendency to treat belonging as if it didn't exist, certainly not in relation to 'the bottom line' or 'the end of the day', we'll never solve the problem of loneliness, nor of its fellow traveller, alienation.

To tackle loneliness effectively we need to take a deep look at society and see how belonging is under attack – and has been under attack for years. This is really the thrust of my book, Not For Ourselves Alone and I'll look at the issue in more depth in a future blog.

Since Jo Cox, who was brutally murdered in 2016, and her colleague Seema Kennedy, set up a cross-party Loneliness Commission in the UK, many organisations have come together to reveal the level of loneliness across society. Charities, local businesses and local authorities are exploring innovative ways in which to tackle loneliness, to educate people about it and to engender strategy and action at government level.

Crouch will outline her first answers to the problems in a new strategy to be published later this year. She has hinted that one solution would be to change the physical make-up of British towns and cities - an encouraging sign that she understands the interactive nature of society and belonging.

Further reading:
Loneliness is contagious and here’s how to beat it.

For more on belonging and its importance in society, check out Not For Ourselves Alone

Jacinda's Village

Posted Wednesday July 4, 2018

Jacinda's Village

For my first blog post, I can do no better than congratulate our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, not only on her new baby, but also on her superb instinct for inclusiveness. At a time when many leaders would have felt justified in seeking special treatment, Jacinda came to the hospital in her own car, driven by her partner. She gave birth in a public hospital to a child whose middle name, Te Aroha, means love in Māori. Soon after the baby girl was born, she posted on Instagram, ‘Welcome to our village, wee one’.

I take it that Jacinda sees the new baby as entering what Marshal McLuhan called, way back in the sixties when the Internet was not even a twinkle in someone’s eye, a global village. The fact that she refers to it as ‘our village’ says something about the way she is able to relate to today’s interconnected world. Some of us have difficulty with it. Despite all the instant connection and communication, we feel isolated. We suspect everyone else on Facebook and Instagram is doing better than we are. We struggle with the word 'friend' for people we have never met. We have a sense of unreality about the whole thing.

Jacinda Ardern, partner Clarke Gayford and baby Neve.
Photograph: Office of the Prime Minister of New Zealand

To me, Ardern exemplifies the natural ease with which many younger generations orientate themselves to the electronically interconnected world as some kind of real community. There's something exhilarating about this new entrant to the human race breathing in such connection from her very beginning.

I'm not in any way eulogising the social media. Its capacity for spreading loneliness and despair is all too obvious these days. As McLuhan understood, in a village there is always dissension and the global village was bound to generate maximum disagreement because it intensifies normal village conditions. Diversity can easily get out of hand, as we see when teenage gossip via social media degenerates into orchestrated denigration, often with tragic results.

We know that loneliness is a common problem among older people, but it’s also affecting more and more younger people. In a recent radio discussion in St Louis, one of the participants, Rev Amy Bertschausen, commented that it was to do with the difference between connecting and belonging. ‘We’re all pretty well connected in terms of Facebook and that kind of thing, but it’s not really belonging to one another and having that level of intimacy and relationship,’ she said. Another, Dr Dixie Meyer, asked, “Are these connections (actually offering) that sense of belonging … or are they superficial, in that sense where people don’t feel like they actually connected with someone and that process makes them more sad and lonely?”

The challenge is for people to know the difference between connecting and belonging and to make sure they have plenty of belonging in their lives, with connecting as more of a nice-to-have. Jacinda Ardern seems to have a handle on it. It feels genuine when she and partner Clarke Gayford choose a Maori word meaning love for their child’s middle name. Te Aroha is also the name of the small Waikato town her family came from and of the mountain under which she grew up.

Māori themselves feel Jacinda’s warmth and authenticity. Te Ao Marama Maaka, a spokeswoman for the local tribe, Ngati-Haua iwi, said that the Prime Minister’s interest in the indigenous people of New Zealand was improving relations between Pākehā and Māori faster than at any other point in history.

“Te Aroha means a lot of love, because this baby has the love of the people throughout the country. When Jacinda visited our tribe, that was our moment with her. But this name will now bind us forever.”

Te Ao Marama Maaka of Ngati-Haua with the
New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Photograph: courtesy Te Ao Marama Maaka

Ardern said that the name Te Aroha was her and Clarke’s way of reflecting the amount of love that the baby had been shown before she even arrived. “I thought, how do we reflect all of the generosity, particularly of all the iwi who gifted us names? And Te Aroha seemed to be a way to show that love and generosity.”

Jan Barnes, the mayor of Matamata-Piako district council said the rural town was “ecstatic” about the Prime Minister’s choice, “The community looks out for each other here – it does take a village to raise a child, and we are so proud little Neve has Te Aroha in her name.”

Thousands responded on Instagram to Jacinda’s announcement of a new arrival in the village. So far the Prime Minister has shown unerring judgement in demonstrating how both the traditional and the electronic village can work for the benefit of all.

Glossary of Māori words

Iwi – Māori tribes
Te aroha – love
Pākehā – non-Māori who live in New Zealand