When people connect, they affect each other's lives.
The new year is a time to reflect and set goals. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I have decided to choose one word to live by in 2017 — a word that will inform my thinking both personally and professionally and serve as my mantra for the year.
It’s a word with broad reach and broad implications, a word that is integral to everything we do at AARP Foundation as we help to address the needs of older adults who are struggling with poverty and its many consequences.
One of the most pernicious problems older adults face is social isolation. More than half of all Americans who are 75 or older live alone, and more than 17 percent of the 65+ population is socially isolated. That means they don’t have the support of a social network of friends, family and community, and the toll on their well-being can be devastating.
Studies indicate that the health effects of prolonged social isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Ending this problem will require actions both large and small, and at the core of it all is that one word: connect. As an organization, we have launched an initiative called Connect2Affect, whose goal is to raise awareness, develop practical solutions, and motivate communities and policymakers to take action.
Each of us can also play a role in helping to improve the outcomes for lonely or isolated seniors in our own neighborhoods. YOU can have a powerful effect with the simple act of connecting with an older person in need, whether it’s sharing a meal or just establishing some kind of regular contact. Our slogan for Connect2Affect puts it in the simplest possible terms: When we connect, we affect each other’s lives.
Connection also means working together. As head of an organization whose stated vision is “a country free of poverty where no older person feels vulnerable,” we believe in the uplifting — and, indeed, the magnifying — power of partnerships. When we connect — as organizations, and also as individuals — we build a framework for innovative solutions. It sounds so commonsensical, but it often requires a spirit of compromise, a recognition that yours isn’t the only way, that we often need help to reach the goals we seek.
Connect, in a holistic sense, will continue to be at the forefront of how we approach those we help. The people we serve live whole lives in community — we’ve always known that — but existing systems often aren’t set up to address them as whole individuals. It’s not just a matter of feeding the hungry, or making housing safer, or helping low-income older adults achieve a steady, sustaining income. It’s a matter of lifting up their whole lives, thinking about their well-being in all its aspects. It’s a simple lesson in humanity — addressing those we serve as real people, not “problems.”
In his moving novel Howard’s End, one of E.M. Forster’s characters thinks of helping another to build “the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are … unconnected arches that have never joined into a man…. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.”
Connection offers us the power to uplift others, and to complete ourselves in the process. It’s a good word to live by.
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