Listen now (25 mins) | My interview with Brendan Case, associate director of research at Harvard's Human Flourishing Program
Great Interview. Thank you.
I am going to respond from my own experience. I was the director of Data Systems at a large homeless shelter for many years, and as such spent years interacting with the stories of Homeless People. (I also had personal relationships with many homeless individuals, and ran a shelter program housing up to 1800 people nightly) I came to the conclusion that homelessness was really about what happens "when people have no support network." It is the network of support that is critical.
The solution is not easy, as it is about the fabric of society which is a complex weave. This is about family, community, as well as spiritual and economic relationships. At their core, everyone needs a group of people they belong to, a physical place that is theirs (could be the corner table at Tim Hortons) and something of value they contribute (this could be food & shelter, but could also be a smile of welcome). When people do not have these core needs met, they are vulnerable.
This is not an easy thing to create as the tapestry involves millions of interactions between all of us, as well as the animals, trees & plants that also are a part of our environment. It is something that is "emergent" not imposed top down by a policy edict.
As for me, I have left the shelter, and am now running a vegetable market, as I want to be a part of the solution. A community based vegetable vendor does facilitate in part the creation of the tapestry, as it provides a source of connection with a diverse group of people, because everyone needs good food. Solutions involve all of us focusing on the tapestry of life and doing our part to make that tapestry beautiful.
A fascinating discussion about issues (that is loneliness, isolation and alienation) that seem to be tearing at the well being of our society. Tara ends her interview inquiring about some "evidence based practices" in her guest's essay that can improve the quality of one's life, such as "practicing kindness, forgiveness and gratitude" marrying and staying married (sustaining a meaningful family life,) and "being of service" in one's work and in the community, which she compares to elements of a religious life. Brendan Case responds by considering whether we can create institutions that replicate such values.
It occurs to me that for some portion of the population who participate in 12 step programs like AA/CA/NA etc, these principles are central to the path advocated for emotional and psychological health. These kinds of groups also provide the kind of solid supportive community that bolsters well being and a sense of meaning and inclusion, beyond their primary goal of aiding recovery from addiction, which in itself, often finds cause in these very problems of isolation, alienation, etc..
Listening to the general description about what religion socially provides, I could not help but hear the meaning of 'parenting' described. Is that what we're missing: better parents, and so we need the State to become our de facto parents? Perhaps that is a clue about what has gone so wrong in the social fabric... could it be that we have a widespread social failure over several generations failing to teach children how to become responsible, healthy, compassionate, and well adjusted adults? Asking religions to take up the parenting model once again (as religiosity declines) has the cost of treating real adults as if they remained children but justified in the name of 'improving' the lot of eternally needy grown up children who require real adults to parent them! I'm reminded of what 'circling the drain' looks like in action.
Having witnessed the restoration of many individuals (including myself) from a dissipated life to one of purpose, meaning, and joy through a conversion to the Christian Worldview, I am glad to see the benefits of religion come into the social conversation again. The critical advantage of pursuing right relationships in our desire to serve a loving God cannot be gainsaid. It would go a long way toward repairing the breach that is bleeding our social lives into the drain of isolation.