My other half recently forwarded me a very thought-provoking link to a BBC website story. It tells the story of Jeff Ragsdale, a New Yorker who found himself isolated and lonely in a big city. He started putting up fliers in public places, simply offering to chat to anyone who wanted to talk, and providing his phone number. Soon hundreds, then thousands of people were calling him to talk. From all over the world, people responded to his plea for contact, and those many contacts now form the subject of a book.
The first thing to strike me about this story was what it tells us about the difference between loneliness and being alone. This man was in one of the biggest and busiest cities on earth, surrounded by people and relentless, frenetic activity. He was certainly not alone, but that does not mean he wasn’t lonely. If you feel isolated and disconnected, then paradoxically being surrounded by millions of other people can simply reinforce that. Loneliness has always been with us, but I sometimes wonder whether the intensity and bustle of modern city life can reinforce it.
But what is also interesting about this story was how many people were willing to take time and reach out to connect to a man they did not know at all. Now doubtless as his story went viral around the world, some people were simply jumping on the bandwagon and trying to become part of a new and fashionable phenomenon. If you listen to some of the recordings on the BBC video clip, though, there is a genuine warmth to many of them. I’m not suggesting they are going to become best buddies, but there is an openness, kindness and humanity to the tone and content of the messages.
I’ve written before about the importance of connecting, and here it is in action, multiplied hundreds of times over in response to one man’s cry for help. It’s an extreme example, and not one I am suggesting we all engage in. But what prompted it was one person’s courage in asking others to connect with him; perhaps if we each reached out without being asked to one of the many millions who don’t have that courage, our world would become a less lonely place.