Medved: An ancient antidote to the new plague of loneliness

May 19, 2023, 1:39 PM


At the beginning of May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy warned the nation about a devastating new pandemic that represents a growing threat to America’s mental and physical well-being. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

At the beginning of May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy warned the nation about a devastating new pandemic that represents a growing threat to America’s mental and physical well-being.

No one can question the impact of Dr. Murthy’s dire diagnosis, but his timely alarm neglected to mention the best antidote to the present plague of loneliness—an ancient idea that first appeared more than 3,000 years ago and will, as it happens, be celebrated around the world in festive gatherings at the end of next week.

What the Fox-Dominion deal means for Trump’s prospects

How bad is the loneliness pandemic? Dr. Murthy reviews all of the most recent research, indicating that a sense of isolation represents a public health crisis at least as grave as obesity or smoking. He estimates that half of American adults regularly experience loneliness, which carries an emotional toll of depression, anxiety, and even more serious physiological symptoms, including heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

In a conclusion that should generate nationwide attention, America’s chief physician concludes that “the risk of premature death caused by social disconnection” is similar to the impact of smoking up to 15 cigarettes every day and even more dangerous than extreme obesity or physical inactivity. “Socially connected people,” who make it a point to spend regular time with family and friends, live longer and healthier lives than those who neglect the importance of such engagement.

The bad news shows Americans reduced the time spent with friends by at least 20 hours a month between 2003 and 2020, with most of that decline occurring years before the COVID-19 pandemic. In that same period of time, the average American increased the time they spent alone —or engaged in the artificial intimacy of social media —by 24 hours a month.

Professor Kerstin Gerst Emerson of the University of Georgia has focused her research on loneliness and blames technology, in part, for the reduction in meaningful, in-person interaction. Social media “can disconnect you while you are with others, you are not present, you are on your phone. You can be in a room with family and friends but are not getting the social connections you want.”

The best way to counteract such distractions is to rediscover one of the core ideas of Old Testament culture and a key element of Judeo-Christian civilization: the observance of the Sabbath every week of your life.

John & Shari: Why are people turning away from organized religion?

The purpose is more than the periodic liberation from tiresome toil: it’s to set aside one-seventh of your life as unmistakably different from the rest of it and to honor the distinction between the urgency of our weekday schedules and the deeper perspective on the timeless importance of communal worship and shared celebration.

As a Sabbath observer, I’m grateful to put aside my car every week when the sun goes down on Friday evening, not because I resent the vehicle as a pollution-belching menace to the environment, but because walking the three miles each way to our synagogue vastly enhances my appreciation of our neighborhood and even the subtlest shifts in the natural cycle.

In fact, all of the many traditions of Sabbath celebration in Orthodox Judaism seem specifically designed to promote fellowship and friendship—including refreshments provided after services by nearly all synagogues and then home hospitality which involves welcoming midday guests who are both planned in advance and acquired spontaneously from newcomers you meet after prayers.

Some of my family’s best friends in the world were originally Sabbath guests and strangers we originally “picked up” in the synagogue.

In talking about Surgeon General Murthy’s advisory about loneliness, one member of our congregation jokingly waved aside his concerns. “You know he’s not Jewish,” she observed about the Indian-American physician. “Otherwise, he’d be too busy preparing for Shabbat guests to worry about loneliness.”

This brings us to next week’s very special Sabbath celebration, which combines the regular elements of a normal Shabbat with a major holiday in the Jewish calendar. Thursday night through Saturday evening (May 18-20), Jews around the world commemorate the revelation on Mount Sinai with the festival of Shavuot (or Weeks), which marks the first seven weeks of wilderness wandering before God gave the children of Israel the most direct expression of his will, with the tablets of the law and the ten commandments.

More from Michael Medved: The GOP should target Kamala Harris early and often

One of the most frequent questions about those ten terse rules for living involves Commandment Number 4: “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy…” Surrounded by heavy-duty orders about avoiding murder, theft, bearing false witness, worshipping idols, and so forth, doesn’t this expectation of a weekly break in your labors seem relatively trivial and incongruously inserted?

In answering this challenge, Dr. Murthy’s medical advisory is profoundly useful. He reminds us of the essential role of human interaction and communal connection in fostering our happiness, contentment, and even physical health. Among many other things, the Sabbath commandment is an order not to live a lonely and isolated existence and to make the regular connections that are essential to human happiness – and health.

In other words, connecting with your neighbors and kin on a reliable basis is not only the right thing to do – following the instructions from Sinai. It’s also, as it turns out, unequivocally good for you.

Listen to Michael Medved weekday afternoons from 12 – 3 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3).

Local News

echo glen juvenile...

KTTH staff

7 juvenile Echo Glen inmates escape, 4 still on the loose

Seven juveniles escaped the Echo Glen Juvenile detention center early Sunday, according to the King County Sheriff's Office.

1 day ago

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

KIRO 7 News Staff

Crew shortages force WA State Ferries to cancel nearly a dozen trips

Crew shortages forced Washington State Ferries to cancel nearly a dozen trips on one of the busiest travel days KIRO 7 has seen so far this year.

1 day ago

OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI gestures while speaking at Un...

Associated Press

ChatGPT maker downplays fears they could leave Europe over AI rules

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday downplayed worries that the ChatGPT maker could exit the European Union

1 day ago

Woman stabbed Central District...

Julia Dallas, KIRO 7 News

Woman escapes through second-story window after man allegedly stabs her in Central District

A woman escaped through a second-story window after a man allegedly stabbed her on Saturday in the Central District.

2 days ago

Paraglider Poo Poo Point...

Michael Simeona

Paraglider rescued from tree near Issaquah’s Poo Poo Point

A paraglider was rescued Friday after crashing into a tree near Issaquah's Poo Poo Point. He suffered non-life threatening injuries.

2 days ago

Tacoma rents increase...

Lauren Donovan, KIRO 7 News

Tenants protest outside city hall as Tacoma rents increase four times faster than Seattle

Experts warn that the affordability gap is narrowing, with Tacoma rents increasing four times faster than those in Seattle.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medved: An ancient antidote to the new plague of loneliness