Written By: Anton Sawyer
Because I spend so much time reading news articles and legislative minutia, often are the times that a speech, event, video, etc. will escape my attention upon its initial release. The article today is going to focus on just that; a TED Talk that took place in 2016 that tackled the topic of loneliness.
Because of the horrifically bad (i.e., useless) information that the speaker provides, had I known about it sooner, it would have been written about a long time ago. But, like my friend Michelle always says, “better late … than pregnant.” Though the talk itself rings hollow to those who have suffered any form of clinical depression or anxiety brought about by loneliness, there are a few layers of background that need to be addressed first before examining the speech itself. As with everything here at The Indie Truther, not everything is as it appears at face value.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for this article, and all articles, can be found at our site's bibliography linked here.
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Before we delve into the speech given by Baya Voce in Salt Lake City, Utah, there is some background that is imperative to know to understand where she is coming from—both literally and figuratively. Though she drinks wine and works in the music business in New York (having moved there after her appearance on MTV’s “The Real World: Brooklyn”), this might give the appearance that she’s not practicing a specific faith. Yet, whether she was raised in a belief system or not, Utah is a place where how you act around different social groups is directly impacted by the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Having been raised in that state for many years dealing with Utahns of every social status, I have seen time and time again how the class structures work in operation. In Utah, the Mormons not only have a complete stronghold on the laws and legislative system but also the social interactions and norms of those living in the Beehive State—especially when it comes to families with money. The patriarchy in Utah cannot be denied, and the women in society are bestowed with the gift of having their worth based on the success of their partner. Sure, this makes sense if your husband is a Bishop, and you are an active member of the church. But this mentality doesn’t stop there. If you are a woman of ANY higher standing in society (i.e., wealthy), you are going to be surrounded by Mormons and must play their high school games—including losing yourself to a degree.
Did you ever have a group in your high school that were “mean girls?” The kind who say horrible things about each other behind backs, but remain totally friendly while in person? The toxic group that uses their inflated sense of self-worth brought on by their wealth as a weapon against those who may be less fortunate? Now, imagine being a woman who cannot live to their full potential, a woman who constantly must be “on/friendly” to people they hate because of the need to keep up appearances, and having to do it day in and day out.
It’s because of this constant mental and emotional strain that in the early-to-mid-2000s Utah went through a benzodiazepine epidemic. Valium and other prescriptions were being handed out like Pez candy. These housewives had been given a legal (and doctor prescribed) vacation in pill form. Removing the anxieties, removing the jealousy, it seemed like a gift from God (no pun intended)—and the people liked it … A LOT. The mental gymnastics justifying their budding addictions came out of the woodwork. Because it was doctor prescribed, everyone had a built-in excuse to take it. The epidemic spread so rapidly that the Mormon church leaders had to come out and make an official declaration about the dangers of abusing prescription medications. This changed nothing with the faithful but made the church not seem culpable for the lives of their parishioners falling to pieces.
Knowing that this is the majority of perceptions held by the upper crust of Utah, it’s no surprise that Voce’s TED Talk has been lambasted by many—she comes off as never having experienced crippling loneliness. Her relatability to the average American is non-existent (but more on that later). I’m not trying to justify the ignorance of Voce. I’m aware that the way I do research is not the same way that everyone else does, I get that. But in any scientifically based field, the goal is to help find a cure for the worst possible case subjects. If you can help the “worst of the worst,” anything you contend with afterward won’t be as difficult. So, if you’re going to give a speech about a topic that will eventually be viewed by millions of people, you cannot claim that you have a “cure” when you only examine one viewpoint to the subject—especially when it’s only yours.
Now that the background is out of the way, let’s talk about the content of her speech.
The Speech …
Voce begins the talk with some statistics that are correct, and disturbing.
“One in five Americans suffer from loneliness. Which means if you haven’t personally suffered from loneliness, it’s almost guaranteed that somebody you know closely has.” She continued, “But now more than ever, we’re living alone. We’re spending more time online, and less time making meaningful, in-person connections.” This is all true. The levels of loneliness and the depression that stems from it have increased dramatically during the 21st Century. Knowing how impactful this loneliness has been nationwide, this topic should be treated with empathy (which she is incapable of having due to her upbringing/viewpoints I mentioned above), and with a lot of solid research. As you will come to find, these are both severely lacking.
Growing up without many friends, Voce admits that loneliness was something she constantly carried with her. So instead of trying self-awareness and learning coping techniques to become more comfortable with yourself/alone, she auditioned for MTV’s The Real World. (Not) surprisingly, being on the show in and of itself wasn’t enough. She admitted that she felt even lonelier after filming the show than she was before it. It was this let-down of an experience that led her to the study of human connection. In her research, she discovered what are called “Blue Zones” in the world. The people who live in these zones live the longest and happiest lives. When she began to break down where this happiness comes from, you begin to notice a pattern. “So [every blue zone] does this differently. Communities in Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy. Some pray together, while others they walk together. And others simply spend more time nurturing relationships with their families. But the one thing that they ALL do in common is they prioritize connection. They focus on their relationships.”
So, what if you don’t have many/any personal relationships? Let’s say you live in a different state from your family, or you don’t have a partner? One of the main causes of loneliness is being completely alone. Yes, if you have a good pool of friends/family nearby, then this would be great advice to build those already existing connections. This is not the only time she mentions using a pattern of attacking loneliness by utilizing relationships that already exist. She continues, “what I’ve found is that these societies have created something I call an ‘Anchor of Connection.’ An anchor is created simply by spending quality time with people who see, hear, and value you.” The one thing I’ll give for Voce is that she does have a small modicum of self-awareness. This was illustrated by her next line. “But Baya [you may be asking], how do we create our own anchors of connection?” Her answer: “the most powerful way to create an anchor is through ritual. I know when we think about ‘ritual’ we generally think about religion or a sacred ceremony. But today I wanted to redefine ritual as something that’s not necessarily religious or sacred, but instead something that we’re already doing on a day-to-day basis.” And what is this “ritual” that is going to help prevent the loneliness that has become so prolific in our modern world? “The best places to find ritual are with your friends and families, and your intimate relationships. And within your communities.” Again, you see the pattern.
The rest of the talk follows this kind of suit. If you are lonely, then once a week—which for Voce and her friends is Monday—throw on your leggings or other comfy clothes, have everyone meet up at one of your houses, pour yourself some Rosé or other adult beverage, pile onto the couch and just talk. Another ritual that she recommends to everyone involves showing appreciation for your partner. She states that before bed, she and her partner look at each other and say, “the thing I love about you most today is …” Of course, if you’ve been in a fight, then it may be a little more difficult to get in this mindset. But Voce makes it crystal clear that if you have a relationship, that you need to build love no matter what to prevent loneliness. Completely ignoring the fact that not everyone has the luxury of these kinds of relationships.
Having suffered through severe depression and addictions in the past, I have to admit that some of her ideas are actually sound … when it comes to interpersonal relationships, NOT loneliness. If you have friends and family and you suffer from these mental illnesses, then it can be incredibly important to re-build and maintain those close relationships. Being an addict alone in recovery can be very detrimental to remaining sober; you need a good foundation. However, if you do not have many friends or family, or have difficulty in making these relationships, her talk could be crippling.
People suffering from depression often compare their lives to the lives of others. Often have been the times when I was on a meth bender, all alone, thinking of how much of a failure I was because I would compare my life to the lives of others. Most people who suffer from depression and addiction are constantly looking at themselves as failures because of comparisons made in their minds to other, more successful people. If you are in this situation, then this video could make the situation worse. Someone who is in an active depression may look at Voce and think that EVERYONE should have friends, and how easy it is. One of the many tricks the mind will play on itself during an active depression or addiction phase is finding reasons and ways to make yourself feel worse, this way you can justify continuing the self-destructive pattern. There were times I saw the lives of friends with envy and think "well, I've already screwed up my life, so what's one more hit (or day to regret)?" If someone in this mindset were to watch this, it's entirely possible it would manifest itself into some form of self-loathing with the thought of “wait, if it’s easy to get into a relationship, and it's the maintenance that's the hard part, I'm already starting at a disadvantage. Why am I alone if that's the starting point? It has to be me.” Then the downward mental/emotional spiral begins.
I don’t doubt that Voce has experienced sorrow, loneliness, and other maladies that are a part of the human experience. But with her being raised in, and living with, the way of comparisons that Utah has to offer, she’s merely scratching the surface of loneliness. If she had come out talking about therapeutic methods of resolving issues with your past, or coping mechanisms to be more comfortable with yourself, that would have been exponentially more helpful. Instead, we have someone who has been raised to “keep up with the Kardashians” trying to relate to a series of emotions that they simply don’t have the depth to contend with. Sadly, with the video already having over four million views, I fear that a lot of damage may have already been done.
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