The Loneliness Epidemic
This year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, made a public advisory about an “Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation”. He states that “approximately half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness.”
Seen as an urgent, widespread health crisis that “has profound consequences for our individual and collective health and well-being”, this announcement about the epidemic of loneliness made headlines across all major networks. The surgeon general has created a National Strategy to Advance Social Connection, which says that healing will come through social connection.
Recognition of a Problematic Issue
Isn’t it amazing that rather than a focus on war or combat, money or budgets, the U.S. government is talking about true human connection for once? Wild.
And, I think we’re all pretty clear that this epidemic is not just an American problem.
It is scary and stunning at once to see loneliness and isolation recognized at such a broad level, and yet… I have known about this for years. Unfortunately, this is a story I hear all too often from many of you.
Since the formal inception of my business ten years ago, my focus has been on developing, implementing and refining my own organizational strategy for advancing social connection.
My heart aches with yours.
Social connection and belonging are key values for what I do at Wild Gratitude.
However, in watching the evolution of spirituality services, courses, and classes (and the greater field of coaching), I’ve seen a worrisome trend.
A Movement to Mass Lectures
I myself, probably like you, have attended countless live, online mass lectures. While the information in these lectures can be valuable, the learning environment is not ideal. Research shows that students retain less information in a lecture setting and are less likely to use the content in their daily life.
How many live, online mass lectures with teachers speaking to hundreds (or thousands) of attendees have you signed up for? Of those, how many did you attend live? Of those, how many did you feel like you were able to ask questions and receive a valuable response?
In these mass lectures, teachers are either totally inaccessible or insulated by a moderator that fields questions. A few attendees may be hand picked to ask questions, but must speak quickly and be on stage in front of a large audience (a daunting prospect for us thoughtful introverts).
Dialogue between attendees is relegated to distracting chat boxes. Infrequent and too brief break-out groups lack the safety of a facilitator. Post lecture interaction is a sea of disjointed comments.
The stereotype of virtual communication as isolating and impersonal is reinforced.
With teachers out of reach and communication with other students turned into comment threads, these mass lectures are contributing to the epidemic of loneliness.
I agree with Dr. Vivek Murthy when he says, “We must critically evaluate our relationship with technology and ensure that how we interact digitally does not detract from meaningful and healing connection with others.”
Online learning in spirituality doesn’t have to be this way.
In teaching dozens of small group workshops ONLINE over the years, I’ve experienced intimacy and community that easily rivals in person meetings and definitely outpaces mass lectures in a number of areas.
My Start in Small Group Workshops
My initial plan was to start with small online classes and grow them. I began teaching live, online classes to small groups of 5-10 people in 2015. Mind you, this was well before the advent of Zoom and the mass migration to virtual meetings due to the pandemic.
In the beginning, my online classes were small because my audience was small. Most people weren’t used to taking online classes in spirituality. They were accustomed to meeting in person, which I still had to do a lot of to make a living.
Over the years my global audience has grown and people are way more comfortable learning online. All of the work I do now is virtual.
“Online classes” in spirituality have become commonplace. I could easily follow the herd (and my plan), host mass lectures, keep prices low, and strive to attract as many attendees as possible. My original plan was to go big (thus why I originally called them online classes instead of workshops), but instead I am going the other direction.
Now I’m going for small and valuing something more, intimacy and connection.
Join Me in Advancing Social Connection
Go here to: Learn more and register for a Small Group Online Workshop
Why Small Group Workshops?
These intimate gatherings of 5-10 people offer a multitude of benefits that contribute to social connection, spiritual growth, strong communities, and enriched learning experiences.
I teach small group workshops because they serve my values of social connection and belonging. Not only am I able to make a difference with the content I share, I’m able to foster healing through the environment and community the workshops foster.
Spiritual teachings are so much more than a collection of ideas. They are lived wisdom that needs real connection. We can’t feel connected to Spirit if we’re not connected with each other.
Here’s what participation in small group workshops brings:
Belonging and Connection
In a small group, students form profound connections with one another. Sharing personal experiences, doubts, and synchronicities in a safe and supportive environment builds trust and authenticity.
Small groups serve as sources of guidance and support during challenging times. Members lean on one another for encouragement, prayer, and practical assistance, creating a network of care within the community.
These bonds regularly extend beyond the group’s meetings, fostering meaningful friendships and a deep sense of belonging. Many long-term, long-distance friendships have formed among students in my workshops. These friends are there for each other on the spiritual path. Many of them didn’t have spiritual companions before this. How wild and amazing this is given that these women have never met in person and often live in different parts of the world!
Candid, Real Sharing
In mass online lectures/classes, some students are hesitant to contribute due to the fear of being overlooked or judged. Small group workshops provide a sacred space for everyone to safely and actively participate, express their thoughts, and engage in discussions. This inclusivity leads to a richer exchange of ideas and perspectives.
Small group workshops bring together students from various backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. This diversity enriches discussions, broadens perspectives, and encourages us to consider alternative viewpoints.
Customized, Liberated Learning
Small group workshops facilitate customized learning experiences. Students delve into topics of mutual interest in greater detail, ask questions, and engage in thoughtful conversations. I have the freedom to customize the curriculum to fit the group’s needs, adjusting the pacing and direction of the material.
This liberty encourages critical thinking which is crucial to learning. Without the ability to ask questions, express doubt, and receive personalized answers, students don’t acquire the knowledge for themselves.
In small group workshops, we share our questions and consider possibilities. There is no doctrine, no right answer, and no one person smarter or wiser than the other. We all bring our own life experience and wisdom. In this space it is okay to not have the answers. In fact, that is the gentlest position. Rather than try to answer all of each other’s questions, we explore ideas and sit in wonder, wondering what is and sharing the little glimpses we each have the privilege to know.
Small group workshops allow for the sharing of resources, whether it’s books, articles, videos, or personal experiences. This collaborative approach expands students’ knowledge base and provides access to information they would not encounter otherwise.
Clarity Through Expression
Regular participation in small group discussions hones communication skills. This is especially important with spirituality, where many of the topics are hard to put to words. Mystical experiences are inherently hard to explain and spiritual concepts can be ambiguous. Practice discussing spirituality makes it more accessible.
Sharing ideas (even if unclearly at times), actively listening to others, and responding thoughtfully contributes to improved interpersonal communication abilities that go beyond the workshop. The communication skills learned in small group workshops carry over into other daily relationships. Many students are able to talk about their spiritual life with friends and family (when they weren’t able to before) after engaging in small group workshops.
Start Healing the Loneliness Epidemic
Go here to: Learn more and register for a Small Group Online Workshop
In Dr. Vivek Murthy’s words, “We are called to build a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation. It will take all of us—individuals and families, schools and workplaces, health care and public health systems, technology companies, governments, faith organizations, and communities—working together to destigmatize loneliness and change our cultural and policy response to it. It will require reimagining the structures, policies, and programs that shape a community to best support the development of healthy relationships.” https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf
Read the U.S. Surgeon General Advisory – May 3, 2023: “New Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm about the Devastating Impact of the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States”