Social Conditioning Keeps Us Disconnectedness
Allowing social-emotional-existential support to once again become the work of the people, is not without its challenges. A 2020 meta-study going back to 2004 reviewed programs where older adults were supported via video calls and whose impact was measured with the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The study found that there was ‘very uncertain evidence on the effectiveness of video call interventions to reduce loneliness in older adults.’ Despite using an evaluation instrument limited by its ability to accurately measure changes in feelings associated with existential loneliness (i.e. meaninglessness) this study begs a couple of questions. Why weren’t simple displays of kindness by frontline volunteers, even via video calls, enough to move the needle? Also, despite extending empathy and compassion understood as somewhat innate, does it also have to be re-learned?
“We were surprised to discover that most Cohousing residents, if given the opportunity, would park their cars, check their mail, and make a beeline to their homes just like they’d been doing,”
Social psychologists have understood that shifting cultural norms can alter deeply engrained human behaviours, often over a short period of time. Consider the way that neighbours, and increasingly family and friends, no longer find it appropriate to visit anyone’s home without calling in advance. Reverting to the way we were, isn’t always easy, even when there may be a willingness to do so. This is evidenced in a concept called ‘Cohousing.’ Based upon observations of intentional communities in Scandinavia by the architect Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, Cohousing involves people who share with neighbours everything from meals and tools to common space, just to live more interdependently than they would on a block of single-family detached homes. A big lesson from the early days of the design process of these communities was that assimilation in the past was often a stronger force than intentionality in the present.
“We were surprised to discover that most Cohousing residents, if given the opportunity, would park their cars, check their mail, and make a beeline to their homes just like they’d been doing,” said Durett. “We had no choice but to begin building into our plans meandering pathways designed to lead people past head-height kitchen windows where someone might be at a sink or cause them to almost bump into benches and other features where neighbours might be gathered, all to force them to slow down, make eye contact and connect.”