‘Every man for himself’ leads to a lonely place

December 17, 2018

Originally published on Deseret News.

The United States has rich resources, a plethora of driven people and success in technological advancements. This seems like the perfect recipe to enable high levels of happiness among Americans, right?


America has a lack of connection in communities that leads to a decrease in community-driven solutions, and — most problematic — an increase in an individualistic culture often associated with loneliness and alienation.

The reality is American culture has moved toward dangerous levels of social isolation, and the idiom “every man for himself” seems more prominent than ever.

I never knew how lonely I was capable of feeling in a crowded college town. I remember trying so hard to build a support system as I was thousands of miles away from my home in Texas.

My heart ached for a sense of community. I needed a sense of belonging in my new environment. The people around me seemed more interested in keeping up an illusion on social media or using forms of social networking to communicate and “build relationships.” I longed for one meaningful conversation over lunch at our university’s cafe.

The truth is, I’m not the only one who has felt the loneliness, alienation and unmeasurable pressures in my community. This month, a young woman took her own life on the Brigham Young University campus. This tragedy causes many of us to wonder if she needed more from her community. We weep for a precious life gone too soon. Did we fail her?

I have formed a deeper perspective, looking at my own loneliness and the ever-increasing problem in America. There has been a shift in our culture — a troublesome establishment of people longing for connection. Think about some of the problems we have here in our communities: homelessness, crime, violence, etc. What is the root cause of most of these conflicts? The answer is simple: a lack of connection.

Detachment enables an increase in shaming other people for being who they are without taking the time to understand their circumstances. It creates barriers among individuals, populations and communities. The solutions are available in the foundations of strong communities. Individuals thrive amid human interdependence because it builds our capacity to feel loved and love in return. People find greater meaning in life with strong relationships.

“People are not content in their jobs and relationships, and depression diagnoses are at an all-time high,” according to Washington Post reporter Heather Long. There has been a decline in the mental and emotional well-being of people in 21 states across the United States. I believe shame and idealization of individualism have led us here.

Arthur Brooks recently spoke on the consequences of loneliness and the suffering it brings to many Americans. He explains that we are “a country suffering from loneliness and ripped apart by political opportunists seeking to capitalize on that isolation.” Our capacity to be happy is dependent on how much we are also willing to give back to our community.

It is time we begin to reconnect. Community-established solutions encourage empathy and take down the barriers that shame can so easily build. It is time to take our blinders off and realize we are living for far more than ourselves. The next time you are on the bus, at the grocery store or at the airport, take out your headphones, look up and talk to the person next to you.

Angie Vega is a policy intern at Sutherland Institute.

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