A lot of people are lonely during this pandemic and I am one of them, but I am not alone. There is a difference.
I have been reflecting on the relationship between loneliness and activism. So many activists start off as the lone nut (it is one of my favourite videos about leadership, so if you haven’t seen it click here for a three minute lesson). In our times think Greta on her own outside of the Swedish parliament, or Vincent Lingiari walking off a cattle station and going on strike, or Mary Lee setting out to change the age of consent from 13 to 16 and starting that pretty much on her own. In these times of isolation, it is easy to feel lonely especially if you are the solitary person in your house. This of course is also a privilege and one not afforded to most of our species.
In these times being isolated is calling forth new ways to mobilise. The keyboard warriors of petitions and letters are being seen for what they really are just old style campaigning in a digital form. Transformative methods of mobilising are emerging. I can see glimpses from artists holding concerts on line and communities of fans fund raising to keep art and music in the public domain. I can see facilitation tools being employed in digital spaces and forcing innovations in exiting products and tools. I can see value being created without the exchange of money. I can see gratitude being expressed in song and story by creatives who are reaching out to health care workers. I have a sense that something else is brewing and the yearning for community that is not founded on digital platforms. For places on the planet where lockdown has been possible and in places where it has been impossible will be the two ends of the extremes and what is happening in the messy middle could well be birthing some new ways forward. I am looking forward to seeing what will happen from this space and time where people have been lonely.
Loneliness is a craving for connection. Joining an idea for change with being lonely is maybe a super power for activists? For years working in volunteering, I discovered so many people who took up volunteering to manage their loneliness and I used to talk about how their volunteering was their activism to them. My line was – you can vote every few years for the kind of government you want; but every time you volunteer you are voting with your hands, heart, feet, mind, for the kind of world you want to live in. It always went down well and helped build the foundations for volunteers to see themselves as not being solitary givers of their time and talents, but making a huge contribution to health, literacy, well being, access, equity, safety. Being connected to these big ticket items and re-framing see your antidote to loneliness as addressing the inequity ledger is reflection and action coming together. What might have started as self support can turn into something way beyond yourself.
Loneliness maybe a crucible for an activist to emerge, being able to reflect and discern what is uncomfortable, what doesn’t feel just or right. I have a hunch that there is a new age of activism dawning. After all, now we can see what it looks like to have clean air, to notice rivers less polluted, to value the place of high quality publicly funded health care, to be prepared and know public funds can be released to provide minimum income, to discover what leadership looks like in times of crisis and who we are drawn to in their leadership and equally what qualities repel us, to appreciate science and interpretations of data at population level … and the litany goes on. Let loneliness be the activists friend and see what emerges when the experience of being disconnected is embraced.
Being lonely is not being alone. And the lone nut is an invitation to followers and may well be the beginning of starting a movement.