Everyday we see people walking around alone, looking a little downcast. But what we cannot see and cannot know is how isolated they are really. If they are one of the approximately 25 percent Metro Vancouverites seriously isolated then their isolation could be FOUR TIMES as damaging health-wise as obesity.
I find that statistic stunning and incredibly revealing. I am almost tempted not to believe it. But it comes from a man who is arguably the single best expert on this subject in the world, a man who has been head of the top organizations for psychiatric researchers in the USA. Professor John Cacioppo cites the damning number at the end of a clip I found on YouTube, a clip I have shown very widely since and which is intriguing to almost everybody who watches it. It is just ten minutes long, so I advise you to watch it too dear readers.
We live in a world that seems to never tire of identifying problems, challenges and issues, and then collecting statistics to shock us all with how serious they are. It is exhausting and disheartening. I have been an activist on the political left, a progressive, for nearly 40 years, and there have been successive issues that have absorbed me wholeheartedly. At one time I was completely dedicated to fighting the War on Drugs, at another time all I wanted to talk about was homelessness. Both of those issues still interest me and challenge all of us, especially in Metro Vancouver. But now I find the subject of social isolation even more chilling. It seems to go to the core of what is happening to societies all over the globe.
Here in Metro Vancouver I talk endlessly about a major study that found the biggest concern of Metro Vancouver residents is social isolation, ahead of housing, poverty, rich-poor divide, transit woes, crime and other usual suspects. The report on that study makes fascinating reading, and I am posting links to it here. For the past two years or so I have read widely on the subject of social isolation, trying to understand better the causes of it and possible solutions.
One modest intervention which I basically dreamed up myself is now called "The HELLO Project." I have twice spoken about this at the Sunday meetings of the BCHA. The heart of it is so simple it seems maybe too simple - I guess we'll see. My thinking goes like this: lots of people would like it if more people they encounter, total strangers that is, just said hello to them. I mean the way we sometimes say hello to someone in a lineup at the bank, or sitting next to us on the bus.
And if more people said hello to more other people more often, then maybe more strangers would have "smalltalk" chats with each other. You know - the weather, the hockey game, stuff like that. And maybe some of those people would bump into each other for the smalltalks to develop into something more. Then the whole atmosphere would be friendlier. And that is a good thing.
To that end The HELLO Project is striving. We want to hand out tens of thousands of these HELLO buttons and the small flyers that go with them explaining what it is all about. It costs us one dollar to make four buttons, as they are pretty big and involve four colours. Now it seems obvious that it can only work if enough of the buttons get out, and enough people wear them, know what to do and then do it. It is that critical mass thing. It is going to take lots of time, and even then there is no guarantee. We could hand out one million buttons and it still might not work.
But it is worth trying. In a nutshell I and my Hello colleagues have met with dozens of politicians, senior administrators, business leaders, religious leaders and all sorts of other leaders and with ordinary people, and 99 percent of them say that HELLO and/or something like it is needed, and that it is a good idea. They want it to work.
We need money to buy the buttons and volunteers to help us hand them out. So far we have spent $10,000 on buttons, and handed them out to great acclaim at a large multicultural festival in Surrey, in mid July. The reaction there makes us at HELLO more determined to keep going and give it all we have got. We will apply for funding, for grants, from government and foundations, and we will approach private business to partner with them, as we can sell advertising space on our flyers and on the button itself, a small logo for the right kind of company. BLENZ Coffee for example.
What would really help right now is for many people to donate small sums, such as $5 or $10 or even $20. We have recently launched a crowdfunding bid, on the site Go Fund Me. If you donate $40 or more you get one of our fabulous t-shirts and if you donate $100 you get your name in lights on the website as well.
Here is the link to the crowdfunding page. It is easy, only takes a minute, and even $5 is appreciated. Please note that we can bring you buttons and flyers for you to hand out to your friends and family etc yourself, people love them.
The new executive director of the BCHA, Ian Bushfield, has generously offered to let me have a kind of "blog" about HELLO here, so I will be taking full advantage of that and keeping you updated on our progress.
Goodbye for now, David Beattie.