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“The Loneliness Epidemic” Explored

The Ikeda Center hosts its latest Dialogue Nights event, where youth address “The Loneliness Epidemic,” Cambridge, Mass., March 29. Photo by KEVIN MAHER.

by Mitch Bogen
Special to the Tribune

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 29—In the most well-attended Dialogue Nights event yet, over 80 Boston-area university students and young professionals came together at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue to discuss “The Loneliness Epidemic.”

The turnout suggests that loneliness is an urgent issue for young people today, and that they are hungry for connection and willing to open themselves up to others to make that happen.

In her opening remarks, Ikeda Center Program Manager Lillian I shared a quote from SGI President Ikeda that speaks to this point: “It may seem easier to remain closed off in our own private world, but we will not grow as a person. Alone and isolated, our true personality cannot shine. Interaction with others enriches our lives” (July 6, 2012, World Tribune, p. 5).

She also talked about the very real health risks posed by loneliness, noting a 2018 study by Cigna that revealed that loneliness can be as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Given the seriousness of this issue, Ms. I said that one purpose of the evening would be to “practice how to make deeper connections with others.”

The event’s icebreaker activity featured a simulation of the experience of being on a subway or commuter train. The inspiration for this came from research conducted by the University of Chicago, which found that study participants were happier when they engaged in conversation with their fellow commuters versus being in quiet solitude.

After the commuter role-play, the youth shared things they learned about how to effectively engage with others, including strangers. Some suggestions included: Open with a compliment; ask simple questions, such as what the other is reading; and extend empathy.

The evening concluded with a “pledge of belonging” activity, which inspired ways to make meaningful connections with others. Here are just a few of their many pledged actions: Check in on people you care about; be present and in the moment with those around you; be open-minded and authentic with yourself; be inclusive, especially when you know someone is lonely; and, not least, use technology mindfully, which at times means to put your phone away!

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