Feeling Connected

Each morning I take a bus to the metro, then a short metro ride to work. Each morning I get on the bus, put on my headphones, or open my ipad to listen or read whatever book I am reading. As I do this I notice this seems to be what everyone else is pretty much doing as well. There is seldom anyone talking or really even noticing one another. This pattern is pretty consistent with public transportation commuting, at least around the DC metro region.  This had got me thinking a little while ago, why don’t we, (I) ever talk to anyone? Is it because I’m not interested, don’t want to bother anyone, or just like keeping to myself? I’m sure it’s a combination of all three, and more, but the more I thought of this, the more I began to think of how disconnected we are to other parts of our life and society. Are we alienated to an extent that we don’t feel a connection to the things around us? If I were to go out on a limb I’d guess, yes.


I don’t know if it’s possible to feel a connection to the place of your ancestors, but I’ve always been drawn to the philosophers’, thinkers, humanitarians of the old Germany. I don’t know if that has anything to do with my mother being from Germany, and subsequently my ancestral heritage all being from there as well. I was reading something that was discussing Marx and his theory of alienation, which lead me to think more about the bus ride and the headphones. The two unrelated, but I couldn’t help but wonder, are we, as a society, or individuals feeling alienated in our lives?


In 1972, Scottish Union Activist, Jimmy Reid gave a speech at Glasgow University, where he stated, “People feel alienated by society.” Mr. Reid spoke a lot about the ideas of economic alienation, and with the recession affecting so many people, the inequality gap so wide, it’s hard not to feel it. How is our grasp of humanity and citizenship when so many of those around us may be experiencing a sense of alienation?

Do we engage enough?  Or do we brush off those who feel most effected as dead-beats, cast them off for not belonging. This type of feeling is more geared to social alienation.  Without hypothesizing, and assuming too much, I wonder how many of the perils and travesties we face at the hands of others may have some, even if just a mere mark of social alienation, to where they felt “what is there to lose?”

As scripture so quotes, “what doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?” (Mark 8:36) Much of my attention I have noticed is on what type of job am I going to get, how can I make more money? I don’t want to say it’s bad or wrong to want to be successful, to be able to take care of yourself and family, to have the abilities to enjoy the things of life. This is how our society is setup, good or bad. But I do know, I have felt many times, the work I do, I don’t feel too connected to it. Now, that may just mean I am in the wrong job, or just haven’t found what I love, but when it is solely centered on how much money, profit can I make, that is when I know there is a loss of what is important. Unfortunately, it has been my observation that that idea, to gain as much profit as possible is overwhelmingly the goal of many.

The power and influence that comes with those who have immense wealth is great, especially in the political area. The ability to influence politicians, legislation, and government is something I think that makes many feel a sense of alienation. My voice does not equal the voice of someone who has the capacity to hire lobbyists, donate large lumps of cash in return for votes. “Government by the people for the people becomes meaningless unless it includes major economic decision-making by the people for the people. This is not simply an economic matter. In essence it is an ethical and moral question, for whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society.” (Reid)


Now, through the sense of alienation whether social, economic, or political there are many examples of society coming together. Of successful businessmen who set of charities and give to organizations whose goal it is to alleviate suffering and inequalities, and of communities stretching in arms to pick up the pieces after a tragedy.


“To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough. Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life. It requires a social and cultural, or if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country.

All that is good in man’s heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature. Burns expressed it in a poem that technically was not his best, yet captured the spirit. In “Why should we idly waste our prime…” (Reid)

“The golden age, we’ll then revive, each man shall be a brother,

In harmony we all shall live and till the earth together,

In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall move each fellow creature,

And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature.”


Categories: Blog

1 reply »

  1. Hi, Eric,
    Thanks for sending me this blog link, and your post for 4/24 – my birthday! For those who don’t know me – I am Eric Wolf’s ‘immigrant’ mother; and I am surely responsible in some way for passing on some of my ‘European’ habits and or philosophies to Eric.

    About your theme “Feeling Connected”: It’s a sad situation – on the one hand we all want to be more connected with our fellow human beings, but life being what it is, we all feel a bit nervous about ‘connecting’ with strangers. We are mostly worried that permitting ourselves closer relationships with people we know absolutely nothing about might bring unwanted circumstances into our usually well-ordered lives. After all, anymore, anything is possible, and if I open my mouth and start talking to strangers, this particular stranger might take some kind of advantage. Admit it – that’s what we are often thinking; and in some instances, such thoughts are warranted.

    But, then again – if we permit ourselves to trust a little bit more, we will find out that ‘strangers’ might become friends. I will give an example (and you, Eric, might remember me talking about this): In Europe – pretty much all over the continent – in any restaurant or Café – whenever seats are short and there are many customers, people are politely seated at other peoples’ tables. Polite permission to do so is always obtained before seating someone; still, it is a common custom. Here in the USA this is rarely done; it almost seems an affront if such a thing were suggested. So, here we have crowds of people waiting around to come into an eatery, all the while, there are a number of tables which are occupied by only one or two people, and where there is plenty of room – not only to squeeze in but to end up with new and delightful dinner companions.

    This is just an example of how society as a whole has compartmentalized people in general and how our lives are disconnected from our neighbors in a very real way. And here is another key word – neighbors! How many of us (myself included) are truly familiar with our neighbors? I/we know a few of our neighbors, but certainly not all, and our community is a small one. It’s definitely much worse in large metropolitan areas; and I would venture to say, that the same social (or should I say ‘anti-social’) psychology comes into play – we are unwilling as a society to either participate in each others’ lives, or we are unclear about how much involvement would be welcome.

    In conclusion, average 21st century Western societies are unsure of their fellow man or woman, and as a result we have all become reluctant and almost averse to close and intimate relationships outside our personal spheres or families. The remedy – I think sometimes hardship and even tragedy will teach us to overcome; it is hoped we are better people than that – we might even become genuinely interested in one another without adversity.

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