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‘Isolation’ – this is the word that an unidentified graffiti artist in my home nation sprayed on all the green telecoms cabinets, some years ago.

It is an art project that goes unnoticed and unmentioned, but every time I see it and read it, it resonates deeply with me. It haunts me in some way.

Increasingly, I am becoming more and more aware of my own lifetime battle with loneliness. A silent inability to truly connect with the world around me.

Whilst my recent path has been all about opening myself up to combat this, I have only really had partial success with this challenge.

Even today, there are times when I can feel utterly lost and adrift. The more work I do on myself to open up, the more my awareness of this rises. The more I lean into the fear and interact with the world in a wholehearted way, the more this inner struggle dissipates. And yet there is still a great deal of struggle.

It is one thing to have a lot of people in your life. It is quite another thing to actually let them in. It is possible to be married and never be together. It is possible to be there physically as a parent, but never be present. It is possible to live around people and never feel that they are there.

Loneliness is, to me, one of the biggest problems in the world. I have come to realise that it is, and has always been, my largest problem. My skills, my character, my work and the way I live have largely been the results of an unpolished and uneducated attempt to  connect with the world.

We are collectively being taught to live in our heads. To suppress what is in our hearts. To keep ourselves safe from each other. Loneliness is already regarded as the number one cause of death in the aged. It also significantly contributes to mental health problems in all ages. And yet it is not something that I see people admitting to having, or talking about. It is the root cause of much addiction – to drugs, alcohol, television and internet. Numbing the pain of what is missing is an epidemic that eclipses many of the other problems that we face in the world.

We are being taught to paint by numbers and follow the paths that are set out for us rather than learn to express ourselves. We are being taught to play it safe and to never truly reveal what lies within, lest we show a piece of ourselves that may be rejected. We are being taught to put a brave face to the world, even though on the inside, we might be terrified.

Loneliness is not such a hard a problem to solve as we might think. Especially if we start with the young. Something as simple as a shift towards emotional intelligence in education would transform the way we all interact with each other. A generation could transform the world. Loneliness might be eradicated.

If you feel alone, as I often do, realise that you are far from alone in having that feeling. The only real way to resolve it is to tell another human being how you truly feel. This is how connections are made; relationships are developed; communities are built.

Next time you spend some time with someone, ask them how they are. And don’t accept ‘fine’ or ‘OK’ as the answer. That’s too glib. Too easy. That’s not the truth, in reality. It’s not an answer that tells you anything to build a conversation upon, let alone a society.

Better still, next time you see me, ask me that question and don’t let ‘great’, ‘fine’ and ‘OK’ be the answer either.

Let’s talk. Let’s share. Let us connect.


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  1. That’s very interesting Marc. I have thought along similar lines. Why are people so keen to “blot out life” with drugs etc. My fiancee is Thai and in their home towns they still have a great community and sharing spirit. It is impossible to be lonely because they seek each other out. Just as we “remember” people did here in the good old days. In the cities however people are more self centred and, at the same time, isolated. They turn to coping mechanisms. Perhaps when we are being nostalgic here what we really miss is the community and extended families and friendships?

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. watcha petal, how’s team smilers?

    Are you putting into your relationships what you want to get out of them?…. I interpret your post as an act of transferal of responsibility to others to ask you how you are, to invest into the relationship first, by digging a little deeper…. who ever makes the first move….Heavily invest into people and they invest in you…


    Now go and prepare some short, medium and long term things to look forward to which conquer that cellular loneliness, just make sure they are with that fabulous wife of yours and that beaming son! Oh and have nothing, absolutely zip to do with any of the projects you have on the go….

    Team Kate

  3. Hi Marc.

    Thanks so much for taking time to write this, it is becoming more and more clear to me that this is the biggest issue of our time.

    In our August Functional Forum we will be presenting the science of this phenomenon, showing research on the negative effect on genetic expression of social isolation and traumatic social events, it is called social genomics.

    Thanks for all you do.


  4. My brother, it makes me smile to read this. This is your biggest battle. Fight it with all your might. Remember your crazy irish friend has got your back.

  5. Maya Doolub says

    Hey Marc
    So true when you say “We are collectively being taught to live in our heads. To suppress what is in our hearts. To keep ourselves safe from each other”-
    one of the greatest and most rewarding things we can do is to believe in people.
    I believe that is we do naturally- we believe in people; its that love and faith that makes the world go round.
    And so we’re being directed to act unnaturally- to fear and mistrust, and to think only of ourselves as individuals.

    And the upside? I dont believe it will work. Our hearts are too strong, and Love truly does conquer all (-:

    Your mate,

  6. I think the only way to go beyond loneliness is to learn to feel truly happy with your own company. And you can only do that by spending lots of time alone. At a minimum, if you cannot spend 30 consecutive days completely alone, without talking to anyone, or even seeing anyone, and feel completely happy, then you have not yet learned to be happy with your own company. Try it.

  7. Simon Tidd says

    This really resonates with me Marc. Thank you for sharing.

  8. dear winny. i have been noting your emailed messages since i sent a fairly violent message to you when you were promoting a tedx event back earlier this year. my reward was to have you email me everytime you did this, did that, looked right, looked left, faffed around the globe or reckoned you had an original thought. i have all your messages stacked up to reply to, but probably never will ’cause all i usually do is make lists (to do later) and drink wine (to do now). but your post about loneliness is a little different methinks. first, i was so chufffed to see you too appreciated the ISOLATION tags on the electricity (or similar) boxes around the island. i thought, first impression, that that was just good simple art! i have sat in my car umpteen mornings, on my own, with umpteen other single car drivers, in slow moving traffic, with just the mirror ISOLATION announcements to take in. ISOLATION – without doubt hundreds of islanders feeling isolated, even in a geographically squished up homeland – true, so why? my first thought – isolated – in the no-prisoners race to succeed only materialistically in a confined, tax-avoiding, finance-worshipping, profit distillery. if you cannot swim in the guernsey greed currents you drown. an aside – you may like to know that lester queripel, island politician and self-proclaimed poet and arts bod, publicly denounced the ISOLATION artist as a vandal! say no more, lester – you (in my personal opinion) hollow bag of pretence!!!. the arts student was actually convicted in court of criminal damage! happy lester? anyway, i am genuinely pleased to meet another ISOLATION fan. i think the tags are all gone now but would like to know where any still survive. how polite the student was! choosing to tag only public property. maybe banksy began so considerately?

    dear winny – i need to tell you that we are all alone. that’s it. you will only get so close to someone or something, but never 100%, never unite or conjoin in every way. even if you come together, you are both utterly individual, apart and separate entities. accept this first. you have to settle for less than 100% and accepting that is a good start. compromise, negotiate and settle for what is reasonable and acceptable, but never perfect, as that does not exist. perfect is just another human construct. there is simply no meaning to your life or my life, other than the meaning that we construct, individually and collectivley (we do like everyone else does, mostly, to reproduce and survive – happily if you are lucky, in pain if others chose to barrel bomb you). start there winny and build yourself a half-decent existence – if you ain’t hungry, homeless or being abused i would settle for that, no?

    you may also like to consider if your rigid obedience to the ‘individual’, and a political and social ‘individual perspective’ has lead you to loneliness and, if so, if that may be telling you something about the utterly self-destructive nature of such a perspective – whether in economics, politics, psychology, etc? i am an aetheist, internationalist, marxist (not officially you understand) – I believe marxist or structuralist critiques still best explain 99% of the crap stuff in the world and why we are, i fear, planet and all, off to hades in the proverbial. i find your desire for positive change of interest but, to be frank, i find tedx and most of that set up is obviously only of benefit to major corporates and multi-internationals that hover in the (actually very close) background. many innocent, naive folk are sucked in and are used just for smoke and mirrrors?

    i have lost the thread – while changing the music from the unthanks – I am (probably unhealthily) in love with rachel untanks – to robert wyatt, but never mind winny (i get knocked down
    but I get up again, no?) i had forgotten why i started this, but will finish by suggesting a look at the lyrics from leonard cohen’s ‘bird on the wire’ –

    “Bird On The Wire”

    ‘Like a bird on the wire,
    like a drunk in a midnight choir
    I have tried in my way to be free.
    Like a worm on a hook,
    like a knight from some old fashioned book
    I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
    If I, if I have been unkind,
    I hope that you can just let it go by.
    If I, if I have been untrue
    I hope you know it was never to you.
    Like a baby, stillborn,
    like a beast with his horn
    I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
    But I swear by this song
    and by all that I have done wrong
    I will make it all up to thee.
    I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
    he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
    And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
    she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

    Oh like a bird on the wire,
    like a drunk in a midnight choir
    I have tried in my way to be free’


    *** “I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch, he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.” And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door, she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?” *** well, what will will you chose winny? do not despair – you are simply imperfect, and i always take that and any similar accusations as a compliment. remember – STOP ! STRIKE ! UNIONISE! – organised people en masse change things, not individuals navel gazing. or maybe, if you must, just take to the top of a tree and remain growing your beard unendingly (actually that one does not do much to change the dynamic, but it does no harm either – if only isis lived up trees), but PROMISE me you WILL take the time to just look at the STARS on a still summer NIGHT and realise that what you are (hopefully) in awe of is, in fact, what you came from, what you are now and what you will be again (as it is for every human that ever existed and ever will exist) – now, HOW INCLUSIVE IS THAT! so, no more loneliness my fellow amalgam of a trillion atoms, ok? take care.

  9. This also resonates with me Marc.

    In my mental health work I can confirm the importance of isolation in mental ill health — and conversely the importance of human contact/community/love in mental (and, of course inextricably linked, physical and overall) health and wellbeing.

    For me personally, connecting with others involves risk and reward. Genuine connection risks opening ourselves up despite the fear of hurt.

    “To shake hands we must lower our shields. To hug we must also drop our swords.” — GL 2015

    Thank you for sharing.

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