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COLUMN: Why real connection is vital to our health

"So, what is the solution? To create deeper relationships with one another – relationships that are rooted in mutual vulnerability."
Jennifer Hamilton
Columnist Jennifer Hamilton

Loneliness is more rampant than ever as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an online survey, 54 per cent of Canadians over the age of 18 have reported feeling isolated or lonely. Some research has linked loneliness with adverse health effects: increased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, poorer quality sleep, and cognitive issues.

Feelings of loneliness are not always caused by being alone, though. Loneliness is about the quality of connection with the people in our lives.

Luckily, social isolation is different than physical isolation. Unlike the pandemic of 1918, we have technology to help maintain our social connections: FaceTime, Skype and various social media platforms allow people to stay connected.

But how legitimate are our online connections – especially when our political climate has become more and more divisive?

Most of us love someone or are in meaningful relationships with people whose political, social or cultural beliefs are different than our own. While Republicans hate Democrats and Liberals hate Conservatives, the people we love are often the exception to the group they belong to.

In his book ‘Together’, Dr. Vivek Murthy explained the technologically driven divide, writing: “Today’s technology creates the illusion that we do know our enemies; that we see them, we hear them in our own homes every day, at any hour we choose to look. The versions that we “know” are often deceptive and unidimensional, yet we believe what we see and hear even when the videos are completely fabricated.

“As a result, the people we learn to fear seem both closer and even scarier than they ever used to ... A sense of imminent threat makes our world feel less safe and hospitable. It erodes our sense that we all belong here.”

A cognitive bias known as motive attribution asymmetry tells us that our beliefs are grounded in love, while our opponents’ views are based in hatred. This bias applies to Liberals and Conservatives, both of whom believe they act out of love for their country and wonder why the other party hates them.

Research suggests motive attribution asymmetry causes us to become distrustful of other people’s motives. The anger and contempt that comes from this bias feeds the divide, feeds intolerance and feeds the same emotions that cause loneliness.

So, what is the solution? To create deeper relationships with one another – relationships that are rooted in mutual vulnerability.

Personally, this looked like deleting my social media entirely, stepping away from the political echo-chamber, and picking up the phone or FaceTime to connect with my family and friends.

Despite the COVID-19 physical distancing protocols, we have an abundance of ways to stay connected. We must deepen that connection to go beyond alienating political debate and focus on the things that make us similar. We are all experiencing an unprecedented time in history.

Jennifer Hamilton is a local student and writer.