At an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago a few years back, researchers presented their findings on the harmful effects of solitary confinement in US prisons. They claimed that, ‘the human mind is not built for the sensory and social isolation of solitary confinement’. 

According to Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, about a third of US prisoners who entered solitary confinement without mental ailments end up developing them as a result of the harsh conditions of solitary confinement. He concludes, “So much of who we are depends on social contact…When you remove people from that social contact, they lose their sense of self’.

Indeed, in the 19th century, a major psychological experiment was carried out when hundreds of thousands of prisoners were subjected to solitary confinement with the hope that the isolation would rehabilitate prisoners by getting them ‘to turn their thoughts inward and meet God. It soon became apparent that it actually drove many of them mad’.

It is hardly surprising therefore that serious concerns are being raised about the mental health impacts of prolonged social isolation due to COVID related lockdown measures. Some studies are reporting that the loss of human connection amongst other factors is responsible for elevated levels of depression and anxiety. 

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes 4 makes a similar assertion that no man is an island. Such a scenario is ‘miserable business’ (vs 7-8) and the source of our pain. If we want to be happier and experience calmness of soul (vs 6), he instructs us to ask a new question, “How are we doing? We, not I. That’s chapter 4 in a nutshell. 

A key point that the Teacher has repeatedly emphasised is that life is gift, not gain, to embrace life for what it is rather than what we’d like it to be. Gibson writes, “So far, he has highlighted the innate human desire to get ahead of creation itself, rather than living in harmony with the restraints both the world and time naturally impose on us…neither the world nor your own life is completely within your control…We are creatures, not the Creator… Live it before God with reverence and obedience. This is the pathway to joy, even though as you walk it, there will be mystery and pain. Have some nice food. Enjoy a good wine if you want…be sure to enjoy whatever good things that come your way. Chapter 4 adds a new layer to this picture. As you enjoy, share. Share what you have with others. It’s as simple as that”.

Is there someone you can share with this week?

Coram Deo,

Mark