Creative nonfiction

Man is an island


No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

— John Donne

We live in a world of seven billion people. I was born in a bustling city of over seventeen million people. For the last decade, I have been living in another city of about five million people. Yet, in spite of being surrounded by people, I feel completely and utterly alone.

Human beings are social creatures. We are born to make connections and to build relationships. The older we get, the more important these connections become. Moreover, good social support and connection is linked with better mental health. Yet somehow, as the world becomes a smaller place, all I can see is how disconnected we are getting as a species.

I travel by train and then a bus to and from work every day. Both modes of transport are usually full. Yet, on the train, almost every person has earphones in their ears, or is staring at a screen or like me, a book. A small minority sleep in the mornings. And an even smaller minority talk to one another. Strangers refuse to make eye contact. No one smiles. It’s the same on the bus. What’s sadder is that there is a bus driver we all see. Yet, only some of us {including yours truly}, greet the driver. With a tap on and off ticketing system that no longer requires us to ask the driver for a ticket, time is saved but connections are broken. Because now, the driver is just some person who makes the bus move. A non-entity.

As Brené Brown notes in her research, we can only truly connect with people when we are vulnerable and authentic. So in this dog eat dog world where everyone is fighting for the best phones or televisions or houses or cars, do people have time to actually connect? Do they have the time to be vulnerable, empathic, open and authentic? Can people just be with another person without ticking off to-do lists in their heads or multitasking a gazillion little chores? My own experiences tell me it’s not possible. At least not in the big bad cities.

Some part of me wonders that as an expat with no connections here whatsoever, I probably crave them a lot more. The people I meet — mostly locals — have their roots here and therefore, don’t really need to expand their connections. They are friendly. Always. But it tends to remain at a superficial level. On the other hand, I have heard people tell me how in country towns, people are a lot more welcoming. A lot more connected. It’s not just about a friendly smile and a standard ‘how you going?’ for the sake of it. No, it’s about welcoming you into their homes and their lives.

Maybe that’s why, when I do have moments I connect with people, it brings me to tears in private. Because in this busy bustling world, connection is as invaluable as a pink diamond.

John Donne said ‘No man is an island‘ but sadly, at least in the cities currently, we seem to be disconnected islands, all bobbing along on our own lonely paths.

(c) Sanch Vee @ Sanch Writes (4 July 2016)

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  • Roshan Radhakrishnan
    July 4, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    I wish I could say you were wrong… but as someone who has come home to an empty room for nearly 75% of his life this century, I know you are right. And loneliness eats from within, I fear which is why even if it hurts and even if you are occasionally met with a cold shoulder, I would sincerely hope you still make the effort and befriend people. If it is to the country we must go, then so be it. Because being an island is no fun… trust me.
    Roshan Radhakrishnan recently posted…Featured in the Doctors Day Special of Manorama ArogyamMy Profile

  • Amy @ Handbagmafia
    July 5, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Even those of us born here find it hard to connect. I’m lucky to have some good friends but family is an abstract thing these days, outside of my own kids and husband. Connection is so important but why is it so hard to find?
    Amy @ Handbagmafia recently posted…An Atheist on Religious FreedomMy Profile

  • Vanessa
    July 5, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I agree with a lot of this, but I wouldn’t want to go to a smaller town becuase I also like the walls around me. I don’t want everyone knowing everything about me (ironic for a blogger, perhaps). I worry about small town ideals, negative things most of us have moved on from that still live in small towns.

  • Kathy
    July 5, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I definitely think there is a direct correlation between an increase in competition, consumerism, technology and ‘virtual’ connection with the decrease in real and authentic connection. I’m writing on a similar topic today – I think when we feel the political division so strongly it only amplifies the day-to-day disconnection.

  • Mithila Menezes @fabulus1710
    July 5, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    I guess the reason why people have stopped being friendly with each other is that there is no actual need to talk to each other! Even if you are in a strange place and need to get directions to go somewhere, wouldn’t you trust Google Maps instead of asking someone? The argument would be that it’s safer to use an online map application instead of asking someone, who could turn out to be untrustworthy.
    Maybe this fear and doubt has led to people turning into islands. Or maybe technology has also assisted this transition?

  • Denyse
    July 5, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    I have moved to an area completely new to me with my husband. We left everyone we knew back in Sydney. This move is our choice. I miss contact via conversations and catch ups with the grandkids but as they grow up they are busy with school and lives of their own as are their parents who work and gotta get all the things done. So, what does a person who likes a chat do? I talk to anyone I may have contact with …in a kindly and interested way …on any one day. I am not out to make friends, but I am out to connect because it helps both that person to be recognised by another human for me to gain confidence and go beyond my normal (old) fears connect. Good post Sanch! PS sometimes the one person we speak to might mean that we are the only person they have spoken with that day. I remember that and also try to smile at people as I walk around the shops/beach/street.

  • Parul Thakur
    July 5, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Sad, but I have to agree. The only suggestion that I would have is like greet the bus driver, maybe you can start knowing the regular fellow travelers.Like a smile here or there, how was your day, enjoy your day sorts. But those are conversation starters. There is still loneliness and no personal story to nod or share. Beautiful post, Sanch.
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  • Ashleigh - My Meow
    July 5, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Totally agree my twin. But you said it better than me!

  • Natalie @ our parallel connection
    July 5, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    I go through many weeks where I may see people but my mind is elsewhere and I feel I have not connected properly. I know It’s me who is in control of this and I need to get better. Great read

  • Ravish Mani
    July 6, 2016 at 1:03 am

    John Donne’s quote reminds me some lines of a ghazal: Har taraf har jagah besumar aadmi fir bhi tanhaiyon ka shikar aadmi. You raised a good question: Are we afraid to be vulnerable, as it’s an important factor in connecting with people?
    Being an introvert, it’s difficult for me to take the lead but I’m always available when approached. Very thought provoking post, Sanch.

  • Lata Sunil
    July 6, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Once upon a time I had a horde of friends I made while travelling by train. There was nothing we could do in the train. Now of course, the smartphone has eradicated the need to do something when we have nothing to do. So, i havent made any new friends travelling the past few years.

  • Nancy Lowell
    July 8, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Sanch, though I’m aware of what you’re talking about, having lived in NYC and now in Philadelphia, both large cities, that has not been my experience. I find that wherever I go strangers speak to me. Perhaps it’s because I make eye contact, maybe I look non-threatening, I’ve heard many theories from friends. All I can offer is the invitation for you begin the conversation. Brene Brown would approve!

    • Sanch, the writer
      July 8, 2016 at 7:26 am

      How interesting Nancy…I visited NYC last year for a few days and what struck me most was how alone you can feel in a busy, bustling city. No one seemed to have the time for anything. Of course, I’ll admit I was only there for a few days but I didn’t even get a smile on the streets like I do in Sydney when I make eye contact. Or for that matter, in Canadian cities that I visited after NYC. I think though, the difficulty in some cities is that it doesn’t go further than the initial smile or the how are you…

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  • Meg Galipault
    July 8, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Nice essay about the challenges of finding community in a large city where technology continues to insert itself into every opportunity for direct contact. The paragraph on the train is a good start at showing vs. telling. Every city has a personality of sorts — maybe as you discover more about yours you could revisit this topic. It would be interesting. Thanks, Sanch.

  • Melony
    July 8, 2016 at 9:26 am

    You are so right! Despite being more connected than ever, we are more disconnected. ?

  • Hema
    July 8, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I hear you, Sanch. I remember feeling so acutely lonely one evening in Central London, sitting on the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral with a sandwich on my way back from work. I was just biding time not wanting to get back to my empty apartment. It is not a good feeling.
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  • EssentiallyJess
    July 11, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Communities differ so much too. In Darwin, there’s so much population turn-over, and people are often away from family, so it’s more friendly I think.
    I’m sorry that you’re feeling this way though. I wish it was easier for you.
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