Shifting the Conversation to Talk about Loneliness

pathby Marci Mayer Eisen

Just for a moment, let’s set aside our conversations about logic models, measuring impact and return on investments. Perhaps another day we can talk about succession planning, leadership development, demographics, philanthropy, NextGen and social media. Let’s shift the conversation. Shift from obsessing over our institutions, current events and cultural trends to what each of us is struggling with on a deep and personal level.

If we are in the “business” of community, then we need to have more conversations about loneliness and the importance of relationships. If we want our work to be inspiring and relevant, we need to talk about basic human needs.

Family, close friends or work provide our greatest meaning … and our greatest challenges.

Everyone is struggling with something – health problems, emotional challenges, deep disappointments and loss. Sometimes these pains are evident, but most of the time we hide our true feelings from those around us. Just in the last few weeks I talked to a young mom with advanced breast cancer, the parent of a young adult with mental illness, a friend who can’t find employment, and another friend contemplating divorce. We post our pictures of happy families and good times on Facebook and, at the same time, hide the pain behind the pictures.

This video, If We Could See Inside Other People’s Hearts, a production of Cleveland Clinic, highlights the need to understand people in the medical setting.

I think often of the real stories behind the people walking through our doors. Imagine a similar video of people in our congregations, JCCs, Jewish Federations, and other programs within our Jewish communities. How do we make the effort to set aside our own judgments and distractions to understand each person’s unique reality? Visualize what this video might look like if we add the richness of Jewish values as a guide through which to respond.

In recent years we’ve become consumed as Jewish professionals with strategies for effective institutions. As a result, too often our conversations and priorities have moved farther from centering on human needs and our organizations’ core values. When we re-focus our efforts to understand vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams then our challenges become much easier to define – allowing the true intention of community building to shine.

Marci Mayer Eisen is Director of the Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership, a community-wide initiative of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Marci is a graduate of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work of Yeshiva University where she first learned the profound importance of understanding loneliness in the context of community building.