Is our society fostering social isolation?

by Dr. Carla Cornelius, Christian Examiner Contributor |

We are wired for human connection, and so we long for it all the days of our lives. Those who are lonely may not lack companionship but rather meaningful communication with those who are with them. No doubt we have all witnessed the modern phenomenon of a family eating at a restaurant and no-one is talking because they are all too busy with their technological devices. Sadly, this is fast becoming the norm.

Hikikomori is a Japanese word for what was, up until recently, a uniquely Japanese phenomenon. It can refer to the condition or the person affected, and has now spread further afield to places such as South Korea, Italy and USA. It refers to the worrying phenomenon whereby young people are choosing social isolation by refusing to leave their homes for at least 6 months. One sufferer locked himself in his room for seven years.

Although technology may not be the cause of hikikomori, it may play a significant role in extending the isolation, since those affected often withdraw into virtual reality. Alas, it appears that humanity has invented something which is in danger of making us redundant. All those activities which at one time required face-to-face interaction with others, such as shopping, socialising and play, can now be done alone, from the privacy of your home or bedroom.

Unfortunately, social media platforms such as Facebook often contradict their claims. Rather than attracting those who will affirm and embrace you, you may find yourself judged and criticized. Rather than gaining a sense that you are okay as you are, you may begin to feel inferior and inadequate compared to those whose lives appear more exciting and fulfilling than yours. This will only serve to exacerbate your sense of loneliness.

The best gift parents can give to their children beyond the basics of food, clothing and shelter, is not necessarily a stellar education, but an unassailable understanding of who they are in the face of all the storms of life which will assail them. Their sense of who they are, if grounded in God's truth and administered on a platter of unconditional love, will help them weather all the vicissitudes of life. This can only come by exposing rather than shielding them to increasing degrees of challenges as they grow older.

From an early age, parents need to develop in their children the backbone to cope with life's vicissitudes, tragedies and heartaches. Each human being, provided he or she lives long enough, will eventually witness and experience these elements of being human – that life can be wearisome, lonesome and disappointing. Dr. Veronika Tait affirms the need for "growing pains," which are a reaction to adversity, but without which our lives lack wisdom and meaning.

Hikikomori end up retreating from reality instead of confronting it and dealing with it. Many forms of technology are not bad per se, but if indulged in to excess, can mean you are essentially escaping from yourself – which means you are not really living. It is unrealistic to live in a controlled reality where you never have to deal with unpredictable events or people. You will never develop a tolerance for tension and resilience which are the hallmarks of maturity.

The need to escape has a spiritual root – we long for a better life and a better world, both of which God promises in His Word. We long to break free from the cares of this life. Jesus gave the invitation to all – "come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). The Apostle John received the vision that of the new earth where, "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain..." (Revelation 21:4).

Undoubtedly, there are valid reasons to become sad and withdrawn:

  • All human beings have sinful tendencies which cause them to put their selfish desires above the well-being of others and God's Will. Furthermore, the weight of sin can be an overwhelming burden which clouds the conscience, fractures human relationships and keeps man separated from God. The only solution is to confess our sins before God and, if necessary, man, and to repent from them.
  • The insolubility of human/social problems may be summed up in the statement from the book of Ecclesiastes – "what is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted" (Ecclesiastes 1:15).  Man's inhumanity to man continues unabated as seen in wars, hunger, conflict and disease which are still rampant despite scientific and technological advances. Political leaders promise much, but time and time again fail public expectations. There are a never-ending stream of seeming injustices such as the untimely death of the virtuous alongside the longevity of the wicked.

Those who become socially isolated are in danger of becoming the center of their own "worlds." This leads to a distorted reality where the self becomes an inescapable burden. Author Kilpatrick characterises the "burden of self" in three ways: "the attempt to make the self supreme – a replacement for God – puts an enormous burden on us; concentration on the self is self-defeating since it leads, not to self-actualization but to self-seriousness; self-pre-occupation leads to a withdrawal of interest in the world and in turn makes the self less interesting" [William Kirk Kilpatrick, Psychological Seduction: The Failure of Modern Psychology (Nashville, Camden, New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), 64].

Ultimately, the cure for social isolation lies within, and not outside of, each of us. If we are adults, we must put self-imposed boundaries on our use of technology. If we are parents with children, we must lay down these boundaries for them, and of course, set the examples ourselves. This June, the month in which the world celebrated the UN Global Day of Parents, presents no better opportunity to be reminded of these life-enhancing truths.

– Dr. Carla Cornelius is a Director and Editor at Jesus Joy Publishing. Her Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling has equipped her to trace humanity's problems back to faulty thinking and values which fly in the face of the Maker's instructions. She has a passion for exposing the distortions of truth spun by the media and popular culture which leave sick souls in their wake, souls desperately in need of spiritual detoxification. She is the author of five books including Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking, Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains and No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide.