The Winter Season is a unique time in New York City. The streets are cold and bitter, people walking as fast as possible, trying to duck under the wind and hurry to their destination.
One of the things I love about New York is that it is an introvert’s paradise. That might sound counter-intuitive because there are eight million people to run into. But the truth is the crowded streets of New York are one of the best places to find solitude. Especially during the winter months when nobody wants to stop to look at you or lift their faces to the elements.
Of course, this can kind of mess with a person. To be surrounded by people but feel so alone. It can backfire on me big time. When you are around so many people but are struggling to feel seen, it is easy to take the leap to assume there must be something wrong with who I am. The potential value of solitude then becomes a nightmare of loneliness.
This is not a phenomenon unique to New Yorkers in the winter.
There are people out there who are lonely in their marriages. People who sit in community groups, church congregations, and circles of friends without feeling seen, heard, or valued.
It is a particular poison to a human being’s desire for purpose. All of the elements of belonging, togetherness, and purpose are there, but something is not quite right. Something is missing.
The Makings of Community
So what turns a group of people from a random collection of lonely individuals into a group that sees one another, values one another, and operates as a true community?The answer is purpose. A vision. Something external the group is living toward.
Again, it seems counter-intuitive. But so much of what is true fits that description. The fact is that groups of people have exactly two options as they form.
The first is for each particular member of the group to fight one another for prominence, affection, and affirmation. In this iteration, the group is in competition with itself. It exists only for the edification of each specific member. This is what leads to loneliness – everyone is fighting to be heard but nobody is hearing anyone else. Nobody wants to give an inch. After all, they aren’t there to serve others. They are there to get out of it what they want.
The only cure for this is an external vision, something that is independent of any one specific member but inclusive of all members. Something that can be chased together.
This is why book clubs and support groups are so effective. Each member is asked to participate in achieving a greater good than just their own satisfaction. Ironically, this is how we discover a life of satisfaction.
We’ve had to learn this the hard way in New York. The city is not impressed with me. It does not really care who I am or what I am doing. But it does provide opportunities for me to express who I am, to serve people around me, and to find a community that shares the same vision and values that drive my existence.