Society has always struggled to keep a balance in the trajectory of its progress. Olden familial structures were made up of parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren, and, as difficult as living close to a greater number of relatives may be, this situation brought with it a certain sense of security. At the least, one could say that they did not feel lonely.
Soon the situation would change. The traditional structures in the West would be modified and the concept of the nuclear family would reign supreme. This family was composed of parents and children. As children grew up they started distancing themselves from the structure and would soon leave to build their own lives, sometimes quite far from their old homes. This offered a sense of independence to the children, and, among other feelings, perhaps a sense of accomplishment and freedom to the parents. Of course, for parents, the moving out of the children would sometimes be accompanied by ‘empty nest syndrome’, that is, the feeling of emptiness and loneliness which comes with no longer being the sole provider of the children’s wellbeing or having them in one’s presence. Many would buy dogs or take on hobbies or jobs in order to fill the void. As they got older, the parents would try to keep their independence, and, as they got more feeble and incapable of functioning on their own, they, along with their kids, would start perhaps considering the move to a nursing home, assisted living facility or some similar arrangement. While this freed up time for the children to be able to raise their own offspring and live their lives, it probably did not do much for the older parents, who, blessed with 21st century technology, would now live to quite a solid old age yet without the benefit of being of much use to anyone. They would now go on to live almost as if in a hotel until their days were spent. Rather than bringing comfort, such an image might induce anxiety and fear of dying in an unfamiliar setting with no one dear anywhere near. Of course, the problem of loneliness does not begin and end with the aging population. In fact, more and more young people are fighting the losing battle with loneliness, as social media and technology take the place of meet-ups and real-life conversations and free time is increasingly devoted to virtual activities.
Many modern living arrangements have proven effective in freeing up time, giving people the opportunity to live longer and be more productive. Unfortunately, most of these arrangements have done little to lessen the sting of loneliness, provide ease of mind or spiritual comfort. Modern society has reached a level of disconnection with the steady, natural, balanced way of things which would have shocked those of previous generations. In fact, the problem is so prevalent that certain Western societies, such as Great Britain, can no longer ignore it. As Forbes notes: “In fact, loneliness has become such a problem in the United Kingdom (UK) that the country now has a Minister of Loneliness. While Minister of Loneliness may sound like a new song or a Lord of the Rings character, it is a real new position addressing a real increasing problem.”
As a powerful, modern, and forward-thinking continent, Europe must take these realities into consideration and try a balanced approach to the issue of the human need for company and purpose. In fact, as all societies reach a similar level of development, urbanization and technological advancement, they need to be aware of the dangers accompanying the benefits. For the only safe way to step into the future is with our eyes open and senses wide awake.