J.W. Freiberg talks about loneliness as a problem in our society and how we can overcome this isolation, social distancing and quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic.
J.W. Freiberg holds a PhD from UCLA and a JD from Harvard Law School. He is the...
Jon Amarilio is a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Chicago, where he co-chairs Taft’s appellate group...
Jennifer Byrne is the Director of Continuing Legal Education for The Chicago Bar Association, for which she implements...
In the first of our series of COVID-19 related podcasts, our hosts Jonathan Amarilio and Jennifer Byrne speak with J.W. Freiberg, social psychologist, lawyer, and author of the forthcoming book, “Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation,” about the chronic loneliness problem in our society and how we can overcome it—an issue that has become prescient as we cope with isolation, social distancing and quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic.
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The Overcoming Loneliness Edition
Jonathan Amarilio: Hello everyone and welcome to CBA’s @TheBar. The podcast were young and youngish lawyers have unscripted conversations with our guests about legal news, topics, stories and whatever else strikes our fancy. I am your host, Jon Amarilio, of Taft Law and co-hosting the pod with me today is Jen Byrne of The Chicago Bar Association.
Jennifer Byrne: Hey Jon, how is it going?
Jonathan Amarilio: Good-ish. So Jen, this episode is the first in a series that we are recording in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be releasing these as quickly as we can line them up with our guests on topics that we think will be helpful and informative for our audience in these admittedly trying times.
We of course are being good citizens and practicing social distancing by recording remotely for the first time where everyone is remote, so I hope our audience will be forgiving about any sound quality issues. And that isolation is actually what we are here to talk about today with our guest J.W. Freiberg or Terry to his friends. Terry studies chronic loneliness through the lens of a social psychologist turned lawyer. He has a PhD from UCLA and a JD from Harvard.
A former assistant professor in the Social Psychology Department at Boston University, he served four decades as general counsel to more than a dozen mental health and social service agencies in Boston, including The Home for Little Wanderers, the nation’s oldest child welfare organization and the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers, one of those facts is true.
Dr. Freiberg is also author of ‘Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone’ to be released this June and ‘Four Seasons Of Loneliness’. He’s been called the Oliver Sacks of Law, which I think is quite the compliment, and he’s here remotely with us today. Dr. Terry, welcome to @theBar.
J.W. Freiberg: Thank you very much.
Jonathan Amarilio: So I am curious. How does a psychologist become a lawyer who writes about psychology?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, I was an Assistant Professor at Boston University from 1971 through 1980 and I had a friend who had been to the law school over in Cambridge and had he had an inkling that they might well be interested in a student in his mid-30s or her mid-30s to sort of spice up the soup a little bit. So I applied and it’s spinning a whole tale about how I would add my Social Psychology background to a law career, and by some miracle they let me in, and so I went to law school.
When I came out I flowed into a Hale and Dorr, it was now Wilmer Hale, one of the big firms in town and that was great for a number of years especially to get trained, but then I got a call from that friendly lawyer who had encouraged me to apply and he said he needed help and a partner in his practice because he represented a big children’s social welfare agency and he didn’t have the time anymore or this sort of youth to handle it.
So they were willing to make me their General Counsel if I went to a firm where my fee basis could be considerably more modest than Hale and Dorr could allow and off I went, and lo-and-behold I didn’t thought it through but I turned out to be the only guy in town with both a relevant PhD and a Law degree. And so a whole handful of these agencies asked me to be their general counsel, as well as scores of practices of psychiatrists and psychologists, and clinical social workers. And whereas on one hand I would do their thoroughly boring everyday work. A guy fell down the steps, what do we do? Our lease is running out, we sort of like the building but not, more-and-more as the years went on their clinicians needed legal consultation for things they heard in clinical session.
And that became the really interesting thing, I would take copious notes, I would get back to them on the legal advice they were requesting on each case, but I also was seeing this as a sort of de facto social science research because I was getting all these incredibly detailed pictures of these homes and these circumstances.
And so, about ten years ago when I retired from the law firm, I found that I had over 1200 of these files, some of them a Xerox box thick on different cases and that became my database. So chronic loneliness was becoming a big issue in the world at that time and I started to think about that and what the fact that many of my clinician clients had said that more-and-more of their clients were showing up with loneliness issues along with other psychological issues to be dealt with in clinical session.
So I started reading more on the topic and thinking more about what I had in these notes and in 2016 I published ‘Four Seasons of Loneliness’ and it struck some kind of key because the issue of chronic loneliness as luck would have it was becoming such a hot issue that people were interested in what I had to say. So that’s the career change path I took by happenstance.
Jonathan Amarilio: That’s fascinating. So I mean the topic is even more relevant now than it was a month ago and I don’t think we need to lay a lot of groundwork for that discussion, everyone knows what’s going on in the world.
At my last count 38 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have issued stay-at-home orders, 90% of the country’s population, which is, I think somewhere around 300 million Americans are under some form of lockdown. That situation obviously affects every segment and aspect of our society, mostly for the worse, and loneliness, isolation seems to be one very prevalent aspect of that.
Terry, you wrote before all of this started that one in three American adults feels chronically lonely, I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that they are probably feeling even more lonely and isolated now that they are under lockdown and those who didn’t feel lonely and isolated before starting to feel that way perhaps for the first time now. Do you think that’s right?
J.W. Freiberg: I think you are definitely right and I think it’s interesting to think about what loneliness means, what that term means because of course it’s an everyday word, we all feel lonely from time-to-time. We all lose our grandparents when were in our 20s or 30s, we lose our parents when we are in our 50s or 60s, friends move away from us, we are in a very mobile world where people move across the country. So we all mourn a lot of loss, and people we care dearly about are out of our lives. So we all know what it means to be lonely.
But let’s not confuse that with chronic loneliness, which is people who report that they — I love this quote because it says it all so in such a poetic way. About 28% of people reported in one major study that they had spoken to no one about anything important in the last six months.
Jonathan Amarilio: Wow.
Jennifer Byrne: So this is bringing about questions for me about this term “loneliness”. You are explaining it a little bit but at the top of this recording I was just thinking to myself, is loneliness a clinical term, and if so, how is that defined?
J.W. Freiberg: It is not a clinical term, and it’s had many definitions. My working definition which comes out of fascinating neurobiological work now available in psychology that wasn’t until recently is that loneliness is actually a sensation, it’s not an emotion, it’s the parallel to hunger and thirst and fear. Look, these sensations come to us because we are animals not because we are humans. We share this, it actually comes from a part of the brain that is an ancient part of the brain, it is part of our physiological makeup as mammals. So just as other animals are motivated by hunger and thirst and fear to take the actions that are somewhat imprinted in them partly from their heredity and partly from training when they were young by their parents.
So we too are confronted with loneliness from inside us. It isn’t an idea we form in our forebrain. It’s our parietal lobe of our brain, just like in a deer, when you startle a deer with your car, we probably all come upon an animal, wild animal, when we are walking or driving and we have sort of startled them and you see them jerk to attention. They are getting a biochemical thrust of whether it’s fear in that case or whether they get hunger or thirst, that’s where our hunger comes from. We feel hungry before we think about, oh, I am sort of hungry, I think I’ll get a hamburger, whatever. So it’s really important to understand that what we are calling loneliness is a term we give a sensation that all animals feel and certainly all mammals. And that’s really important because it means that we don’t have control over loneliness with our forebrain anymore than we do over hunger.
Jennifer Byrne: So that begs the question for me, you were starting to talk about this 28% of people who report not having an important conversation with someone within the last six months. And I don’t know how much information we have about those people surveyed, are they people who are in that position where they are not communicating with people by choice or is it thrust upon them by some circumstance like, I don’t know, being on some sort of like Appalachian Trail, doing a hike, I don’t know, whatever it is.
Jonathan Amarilio: It’s a very random example.
Jennifer Byrne: I don’t know why that —
Jonathan Amarilio: The Appalachian Trail —
Jennifer Byrne: Yes, really weird.
Jonathan Amarilio: Okay, yeah or maybe they just like video games too much.
Jennifer Byrne: Well, I was envisioning like a hiker who’s like choosing to self-isolate and the reason I use that example is because you are saying it’s a sensation which to me is distinguishable from a state of mind. So can someone be lonely or does someone have to have like a lack of interaction with other people in order to be defined as lonely or can they have no interaction with people and internally feel totally fine with it? Do you get what I am asking?
J.W. Freiberg: I do and I have an answer that you probably aren’t expecting, and that is that we have a magnificent test for chronic loneliness. It’s called the UCLA Loneliness Test (Version 3), and it asks 20 questions’ that’s all, 20 questions, and they answer those questions correlate with everything else we know about people who tell us about their lives. So it’s a very valid and very reliable test.
Let me just give you a couple of questions, you will catch the sense of it. There’s only 20 questions. One is, how often did you feel that you were in tune with the people around you? And you give it a 1, 2, 3 or 4, you can imagine, from never to always. How often do you feel that you lack companionship? How often do you feel you are part of a group of friends? How often do you feel there are people you can talk to? So there’s 20 of these questions that they are very cleverly thought through to test different parts of this sensation, but when we are done, we have a very valid and reliable in the scientific sense of those two words, test. So we know whether people are chronically lonely or not unless they are purposely lying on the test which would not make much sense.
Jennifer Byrne: Well, I guess, some of those questions though are still creating more questions for me such as maybe the Appalachian hiker isn’t the best example but what about a monk who is choosing to self-isolate but doesn’t necessarily feel like they are alone or doesn’t necessarily feel like they have no one to talk to because they are communing with a higher power or something along those lines?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, the first — the very first line of my 2016 book of ‘Four Seasons of Loneliness’ is this book is about loneliness, not solitude.
Jennifer Byrne: Ah, okay.
J.W. Freiberg: There are people, there are monks and —
Jennifer Byrne: That helps me understand.
J.W. Freiberg: Yeah, sure, there are people who live alone on purpose in a very healthy way, that’s a different issue. I am talking about people who are greatly pained. How do we know they are greatly pained? There is a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the forebrain and it has two neurological jobs in your brain.
On one hand it’s the organization center for incoming signals of pain. So, if you stub your toe, that’s the part of your brain that receives the pain from your toe, interprets what part of your body got hurt, selects a reaction on your part, all preconscious, it’s no different in a dog than that in you or me, okay, so I am pretty conscious. That part of the brain has one other job only, and that is loneliness, it is what’s called the Social Pain Overlap Theory.
That cortex, a piece of brain does two things, it interprets incoming pain and it makes you feel lonely when you feel distanced and disconnected. So this is important because humans are herd animals, obviously like deer. We have no — we are not fast runners, we are not clever with our seeing or smelling, a hearing compared to other mammals, how come we are so dominant? Well, because we communicate and coordinate and act together. And so there’s a very powerful signal from the body that comes up at you, from your parietal lobe to your consciousness that says, oh my god, I am feeling distanced, I am feeling rejected, I am feeling banished.
By the way in medieval Europe the second greatest punishment after they kill you if you did some things, but basically what they did if you didn’t quite deserve that is they would banish you from your community —
Jonathan Amarilio: Same in ancient Athens, exorcism.
J.W. Freiberg: Yeah, it’s huge and any time when I say this in talks and people say, are you saying to me that psychological pain of loneliness even though it’s an animal function from deep in our brain is as great as physical pain? I love to answer by saying, so what hurts more, a broken arm or broken heart?
Jennifer Byrne: Definitely the heart, I have to agree with that.
Jonathan Amarilio: Yeah. Okay, so loneliness is a form of pain and if I understand you correctly, Terry, it’s really something that relates to our primitive brain as a safety issue, let’s bring it back to what’s happening now. For those people who were already chronically lonely, what do you think everything that’s happening in the world is doing to them now?
J.W. Freiberg: I love this question because let’s answer that and then obviously go to people who aren’t chronically lonely what’s happening to them now. So to people who are chronically lonely the small everyday interactions then you and I walk through without thinking much about it, the friendly smile from the person, the checkout person at the market, the good morning from a stranger, it should take a walk, those small little verbal interactions that are part of everyday social life are very important to people who have no one at home.
So 28%, this is a 2018 number, so it’s a little more, but let’s call it 28% of adult households in the United States are now single person households. So more than a quarter of us live alone and so there are many people who don’t have once they get home a set of interactions, and hopefully, warm and loving connections with spouse or partner or kids or others.
So for them the absence of these little everyday conversations that we are all used to, just little moments of interpersonal warmth are incalculably hard, very hard and I have many clinician friends who are busily trying to convince clients and setting up ways of dealing with them and over Zoom and other electronic ways because these folks are really in need of talking this through. They are out on a life raft that has sprung a leak, it’s a very dangerous circumstance, if you’re already chronically lonely.
Jonathan Amarilio: And what about for those who weren’t chronically lonely before all this began?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, there’s no question that we have that by definition we have connections with people of importance to us but we too. I have a very different quality of life in terms of distance and separation from all sorts of things in our lives and people who are psychologically healthy in this sphere because they have a basic set of connections that make them feel safe from the point of view of the animal brain if you like in us, have it easier but it’s not easy on any of us having more distance and less interaction with others.
Jennifer Byrne: So what happens when we come out of this? What happens when we come out of our quarantine and we start resuming normal interactions, can we resume normal interactions immediately? Is there going to be a rush of people wanting to spend more one-on-one time with one another? Prior to this we have been moving more-and-more towards a virtual world where people are texting with one another instead of calling them on the phone, instead of getting together they are chatting online, are people going to retreat away from that in favor of more in-person interaction or are they going to continue down this path even more because we have become accustomed to virtual interaction or because we are frankly still kind of scared about the illness and the pandemic, what are your predictions and what do you think is the better or and/or likely outcome maybe a different answer for both of those questions?
J.W. Freiberg: Right, well, I must say there’s one little moment of hopefulness in me that there are a lot of lessons being learned here. This phenomenon in my guess would be is of a magnitude like World War II or World War I. This is a really serious social phenomenon in many ways, for example, there’s going to be I assume quite a change in labor force participation as smaller shops and so on, don’t reopen, and all of that’s going to have to be dealt with, but my main point is that this is such a powerful social phenomenon.
Earth shaking, like going through the war, the depression before the war and then the war, that people are going to come out of it as they did out of those two phenomena more bonded together. The Labor Movement for example had big upticks after World War I and World War II because people felt they ought to get together and think things through and organize in that sphere, but I think they also did it in private lives.
So I am a World War II baby and I grew up right after World War II and there was no question about it that there was a camaraderie, a generalized camaraderie that I think came from the war in part because everybody had been on the same team there after all the enemy was foreign and generalized, and I think that’s true here too.
So I think it’s hopeful, there’s an element of hope, let’s say, and that people see the value in working together, in coordinating and cooperating and listening and seeing the overall social fabric as having importance that it’s not just your individual life. So that’s a piece of hope.
Jennifer Byrne: Do you think that leadership and the leadership in the country both on a national level and a local level contributed to that and is there a missed opportunity happening here to kind of harness the power of cooperation and collectivity because we live in a more polarized society right now politically?
J.W. Freiberg: Yes, no question but I mean when I was growing up Dwight Eisenhower was the President and because he had been the five-star general of the war, he was really seen as somewhat beyond politics of both politics, and the politician in that era were States. Now they are men and women but they were state people, they weren’t actors pretending to be politicians. And that would be helpful if we had that or if we can obtain that on my personal view, but what I am talking about is really the social psychology of the individual. I think we are being changed. If this event goes on two more months, three more months if this goes on through the summer I think this will be a psychologically important phenomena that will have quite a bit of impact on the social involvement that we feel with one another.
And one hopes that there are voices both in political leadership circles but also cultural leaders who articulate the need to work together, we are not in a world of one by one, we are in an incredibly interconnected, inter-articulated world. We just saw that. It took a matter of weeks for disease to spread from China to the West and around the globe. We know that our economy is completely internationalized now.
That’s the world we live in, so this image we had from an earlier era really a 19th Century image of the individual person you can do it all yourself is an image that needs to fall by the wayside and I am hopeful that it will.
Jennifer Byrne: Can it in America though? Sorry, Jon, I didn’t mean to interrupt.
Jonathan Amarilio: No. That’s a fair point, the American societies fiercely notoriously for better or worse individualistic maybe more than any other country in the world.
J.W. Freiberg: I think you are right. So I may be a little optimistic here but I am hopeful that people come out of this with more of a feeling because after all there’s an awful big lesson to learn, every time you try and shop for groceries or do anything in today’s locked-in world it takes cooperation of others, it’s not just deciding individually to go to the market and grab what you want, it’s coordinating with the rules of marketing in your town, can you go? What are the hours for your age group or when is it safest or best or cleverest to go or can you bring something to your agent neighbor and so on?
People are certainly thinking more like that and I hope in my heart of hearts that we can continue that afterwards.
Jonathan Amarilio: Terry, if I may I just want to kind of probe that idea a little bit because when you were comparing it to the World War II in the boomer generation that came after, it occurred to me that the solution there to defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was to come together and to cooperate in that coming together toward the common goal of winning the war, but here what we are hearing every day is that the solution is actually to separate, not to come together, and to do nothing.
So I wonder if — and I don’t want to push back on the idea of hope, I am certainly for that, but I wonder if the comparison holds in this circumstance because of that.
J.W. Freiberg: Well, I hear you because some of the measures, safety measures do have to do with isolation, with border closings, with a cessation of unnecessary travel and so on, no question about it, but I think that I am hoping that that’s overridden by the message and clear evidence that we are all in this together, the entire world.
I presume we are going to come out of this with a realization that it needs to be an internationalized medical counterattack force ready to take on the next bug wherever it may start early on and effectively. So presumably that element of what could be say a United Nations — a branch of the United Nations that’s ready to do that is the kind of image that I think and hope will come out of this that either we coordinate and cooperate in this interconnected world we live in or we fall subject to these just kind of problems that we see in the coronavirus, but that we see elsewhere in society as well.
Jonathan Amarilio: Right. So maybe let’s bring it back to what happens if we don’t. You were talking before about how isolation and loneliness is a form of pain. If this continues and people continue feeling this pain and even after the epidemic ends if this exacerbates rather than ameliorates the trends that were occurring before toward more isolation and not less isolation, then what can we expect to see in terms of health consequences for people? What does this pain, what does this loneliness do to us, not only individually, but just broadly more as a culture?
J.W. Freiberg: Exactly. I in terms of my psychology come out of a school called relational theory and it really grows out of the women’s movement in the 1970s when the quality of interpersonal relations between women, which is very different than between men, I have to admit. Women talk much more deeply and about more important issues and their feelings than men do, then and now, and that led some brilliant women psychiatrists to start this field of therapy.
And the idea was that successful interpersonal relations are an important pathway to mental health, doesn’t mean all issues of course, but some of the basic issues are helping this way of seeing interpersonal relations as a human requirement and when the interactions are broken, when people are isolated, they get sick. And by the way, they don’t just get sick psychologically, they get sick physically.
John Cacioppo, recently deceased, was a great researcher at the University of Chicago and he and his team had showed without any question the lethality of loneliness. You get much sicker in many of the major illness categories and you die much younger if you are an isolated, lonely person. So this is serious business indeed. But the idea that the isolation that’s being experienced right now by psychologically healthy persons on the issue of loneliness, i.e. well connected people, have networks of friends and professional colleagues and neighbors and teammates and so on, they too are ever more at risk as we get more isolated one from another.
And one hopes that the modern media, we certainly see the modern media now allowing us to have this conference, for example, to call people in our families, friends, contacts, neighbors, teammates, all those people we deal with and try to keep things alive until we are out of our homes once again, but we are playing in a serious ball field here. This kind of enforced isolation is going to have a very serious effect on chronically lonely people and is risky for all of us.
Jonathan Amarilio: Okay. So this pandemic that we are currently experiencing, this health crisis could very well lead to another health crisis down the line if it exacerbates loneliness and feelings of isolation for people?
J.W. Freiberg: No question about it. The Chief Medical Officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna Insurance has called the current era, this is before the pandemic, an epidemic of loneliness. And you may know that in Great Britain the Prime Minister appointed a minister for loneliness, that would be about five years ago now. These are serious issues. We have a lot of individuation that was not part of society before.
Five generations back in all of our families people lived in communities, in villages, they knew everybody in their lives, they grew up around their siblings and their cousins, the kids they played with were the children of the friends of their parents, the names of the same in kindergarten it accompanies and in the graveyard, that’s how we all grew up in community.
Well, those are largely gone from the face of the earth, followed by the disappearance of multigenerational families. And now followed to the extent of about 28% of even atomic families, 28% of us as I mentioned earlier now live alone.
So we are in an ever-more individuated world, so dealing with these issues, thinking them through, talking them through, working with one another, either we do those things or we will suffer a health crisis that strikes us in physical health as well as mental health.
Jonathan Amarilio: All right. So let’s go there. What do we do about it? What can be done?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, you are doing something right now. You are choosing this topic, to emphasize this topic on your program, as are many. And everybody I know in this field is doing one or two interviews a week and writing articles. Hopefully, as the topic gets more spoken about and thought through it reverberates with what everybody has just experienced; the pain of being enforced to stay alone or isolated from many of the people you care about in your life.
Hopefully that gets people to think more about it and to do the kind of steps you might think about, for example, upgrading your connectivity. Why text if you can speak, there is so much more vibrancy in a live voice than in a text. Why speak if you can FaceTime or Zoom or all the electronic equivalent. Now you get to see somebody and their facial expressions as you speak. And why settle for that if you can get together.
So I am always advising people to take the moment to sit down and reconnect, to assess their degree of social integration, and if they find themselves wanting to reach out to others, to reconnect with people in your lives, call your cousins; when is the last time, think of the cousins we don’t call as contrasted with what I said five generations ago. Everybody grew up in the same town as their cousins and knew their cousins all their lives; they are important people in their lives. Now we live thousands of miles from our cousins. I have some of those statistics in the new book that’s coming out, they are sort of striking.
So hopefully people begin to see. Look, we all are aware of eating cleverly. Don’t go down the middle aisle of the grocery store, get those fresh veggies, get that fresh meat. We all are aware of eating well. We are all aware of exercise, the importance of getting some exercise, we all know that. So it’s just as important that we mind our connections, that we think through how we can repair connections that are old and rusty and doubtful and how we can create new connections.
Jennifer Byrne: I am on the hopeful track with Terry here Jon, in that I think that like with many things, when some things that you took for granted is taken away from you, it makes you appreciate it more. And so that — my husband and I have been going for evening walks, because it’s our only escape from like the house basically, and of course every evening it’s an opportunity to talk about what’s going on in the world or talk about what’s going on in our minds in relation to this, and we were both thinking like, I never really thought about how much I appreciated like being able to go to like the museum or being able to go to Target with my daughter and do these things and it does make you appreciate it more once it’s taken away.
I mean this is the stuff of life that’s been taken from us and it makes you think more about how it’s the stuff of life and how you need to focus and be there, not be texting while you are out with your kids or with your parents.
And the other thing is I — we went from being the individual family of my husband, my daughter and I, to now we are quarantined in my parents’ house, because they are watching my daughter while we work from home. So we are in the multigenerational home as we speak with four adults in a tiny two-bedroom house, with a baby toddler. And I think the shared responsibility that’s been forced upon us with that has actually kind of — it brought us together as much as its in moments pushed us apart. So I am on the hopeful track with Terry here that this actually could be good for us if we look at it from the right frame of mind.
Jonathan Amarilio: And that’s probably a great place for us to take a break.
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Jonathan Amarilio: And we are back. Terry, so we have talked a lot about adults and how everything that’s occurring in the world is impacting them. How is this affecting children? It seems for the first time they are probably cooped up with their parents and their family and those families are getting a lot of FaceTime that they are not used, what’s going on with kids right now?
J.W. Freiberg: I think it’s a great question and a lot must be going on. I say this because the loneliest quintile of our population are our youngsters. We have 75 million Millennials in Generation Z, so that’s 18 through 22 year olds and they score the loneliest of any part of the population on the UCLA Loneliness Test. What’s going on with them is anybody’s guess; there are no studies yet obviously. God knows they are experts at the modern media and staying in touch with each other.
So I can’t give you a clinical answer on what’s going on with them, but given that they go into this lonely and that it’s not that easy in that age group to deal with your parents, they are going to come out in need of a lot of nurturing and a lot of understanding and —
Jonathan Amarilio: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait, you are saying that we need to handhold the Millennials more right now, because I mean they are the purple marker generation?
J.W. Freiberg: Right, exactly, it’s not that you — yeah, I take that back, let me reword what I was trying to say.
Jonathan Amarilio: I am being a little sarcastic.
J.W. Freiberg: Yeah, but you are right. I used to have a couple of those till they got older. But I worry about them. I mean I think if they score that lonely on the very reliable and valid test that we have, they are not going to come out better off, they are going to come out worse off.
Jennifer Byrne: Well, why is that though, do young people in general just have a heightened sense of emotion during that time? I mean at what ages are they being surveyed? Is it when they are extremely young kids or are we looking at preteens and teenagers? Is it because they feel their feelings more than adults do maybe or is it truly something that’s going on in the social sphere, some of that disconnectivity we were talking about in the prior segment, the interactions are more virtual, there is less face-to-face interaction between kids and with their peers? I mean do you have an answer for that?
J.W. Freiberg: Well, it’s not easy, but I would say that they are in a stage of life where they are learning to put together their own connective Internet, with other individuals’ network I should say, their own connective network with other individuals. And we all know the drama they bring home; we brought the same drama home 20 years ago, right, about being rejected, and we were talking earlier about banishment and how painful that is to be outside, to be unwanted, to be unincorporated just because of who you are. So we all know the drama that brings to teenage lives.
So at the moment they are all relatively unincorporated and this can’t make it easier for them to navigate those difficult emotional seas we know as teenage years. But I think if I may take a look at younger children for a moment, above and beyond the Millennials and generation C age group that we were just talking about, but I think it’s very fascinating to learn that what we in psychological sciences have been looking at with some of our brain imagery that we are able to do now is we actually know how people learn to love and that has a lot to do with what we ought to be doing with our little ones; like you said you have a toddler at home.
So how do you learn to love? What is this thing that humans have, this powerful bond that they have with one another, it’s certainly more than a herd of deer staying near one another for safety? What’s going on? And we now know that it has to do with the way people are raised, that when we nurture young children, when we hold them and hug them and caress them and are gentle with them and help them through the fear of falling asleep and so on, we are actually building their neurotransmitter pathways inside their neural network.
So the way in which you say, think about training a dog to do a trick, roll over and I will give you a cookie, roll over, you do it a 100 times the dog learns to connect, if he rolls over he gets a cookie. So we are actually training our children to love as we nurture them and caress them and hold them and hug them, it’s very much the way a bird trains the young birds to get ready to fly and leave the nest.
And so it’s critically important that we refocus on that aspect, which is one of the best aspects of modern life. There is more time in modern lives let’s say since the World Wars to nurture kids, to really hold them and be with them and to some extent that’s been removed by women joining the workforce and kids being put out to daycare and so on.
So it’s extremely important, especially during these times when they can see their parents so worried and working hard to put food on the table and you can imagine the level of worry in many households, where is the rent going to come from, how am I going to get enough for food and so on, it’s very important to upgrade our parenting in terms of all the nurturing that we do of kids, the holding, the caressing, the soothing, that’s the word I like, the soothing of little children and this trains them to go out and seek connections of their own. We actually train our children to go make friends which will later be both same sex friends and attractive — friends of either opposite sex or the equivalent. We actually are training our children to do that.
So one of the things we could get out of this is recognizing that if we don’t want today’s toddlers to turn into tomorrow’s disconnected teenagers we need to train them about loving others and we even, I won’t go into it now, but we even understand the biochemistry in the brain of how that training takes place, but that perhaps is a topic for another forum.
Jennifer Byrne: Well, I do have one follow-up question to that though, because it would seem as though the current culture that we live in and maybe I am more in tune with this than Jon is, because I am a parent and he is not, but every piece of parenting advice you read or mom blog you touch in with or even things in popular media are putting a lot of pressure on moms and parents to put in more time with your kids. Look over their everyday actions and movements even more than ever before.
I mean historically I think parenting practices were encouraged to be pretty hands-off in comparison to today. If you look at parenting experts from like the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, I mean it was like hey kid, figure it out for yourself. Now we are very much helicopter parents or at least that’s how parents have been labeled.
So why is it that kids are exhibiting more and more signs of loneliness when that’s the culture? Is it because we are doing it badly or is it because that’s truly not the reason why people are lonely and there is some other intervening factors socially that are kind of undermining the groundwork that’s being done by parents? It makes me curious because I am under the impression that we are over-parenting kids or at least some people are labeling parents today that way.
J.W. Freiberg: I hear you. We also had the college entrance scandal six months ago for example. The world we live in is what it is and it’s not at the control of any of our fingertips and it is a world that has isolated more and more people, that has disbanded people from each other and from skill sets, so more and more labor is unskilled labor. People live farther from one another. People commute longer hours. Wives are now statistically very much in the labor force.
And so the pressures of the world are to eliminate the playing that kids did. It used to be that during the free play that kids had after school, when you would go down the block and knock on the kid’s door and come out and play, all of those interactions among those children; we are training them about how to deal with being in a group or not quite in a group, how to deal with a bully, how to be nice to someone who felt rejected, all that training ground is lesson now given the structural pressures of modern society, but I think the right kind of parenting that doesn’t try to cheat to get you into Harvard, I think that’s helicopter parenting at one complete extreme.
But active parenting, where parents are training children that life is all about and health is all about successfully connecting with others, that that’s the goal in life is to create for yourself a good set of relationships and networks of friends and obviously lovers and so on as you grow, that kind of training is important to do and I think it’s distinguishable from the worst modes of helicopter parenting.
Jonathan Amarilio: And with that piece of serious advice, let’s go to something completely different, stranger than legal fiction. Terry, the rules are very simple. I, not Jen, someone did their homework in all their COVID free time have researched a law that is real and on the book somewhere, but probably shouldn’t be and I made another one up completely.
Jennifer Byrne: There is no such thing as COVID free time for a parent Jon.
Jonathan Amarilio: Hey, I have a houseplant and a boxer, okay?
Jennifer Byrne: Yeah, you have a dog.
Jonathan Amarilio: Pretty much the same thing. I will say this, there is no better time than right now not to be a parent. But back to the game, so Terry, I am going to give you two options and Jen you too, one is real one is not, let’s see who can distinguish strange legal fact from fiction.
Are you ready to play?
J.W. Freiberg: Ready.
Jennifer Byrne: Ready.
Jonathan Amarilio: All right. Option number one, in Georgia the state llamas and I mean the long-necked South American Camelids, llama activity sponsors, llama professionals and almost anyone else in the llama handling trade let’s call it are immune from civil liability for any injury or death of a participant resulting from llama related activities. So that’s option number one, civil immunity for llama people from llama related activities, all right?
Option number two, in Georgia the country, it is illegal to use llamas for meat, manual labor or otherwise as a pack animal. They may only be used for wool production purposes. I don’t know why I got on this llama kick today, but I did, and Georgia apparently.
So Terry, you are the guest, let’s start with you. Which one is real?
J.W. Freiberg: I think it’s number one, because it makes me think of the one bite rule. States vary in whether you get one bite for free or not before there is legal liability and except for feral animals where you never get the one bite rule. This sounds to me like an effort to redefine a llama as a domestic animal and not a feral animal.
Jonathan Amarilio: All right. Jen, your turn, what do you think?
Jennifer Byrne: I think number two is the real one.
Jonathan Amarilio: Why?
Jennifer Byrne: I feel like it just sounds more logically based and maybe they have a wool industry that they really need to protect and it’s very profitable and so, I don’t know, I am going with that one. I am going with the wool one.
Jonathan Amarilio: Well, Terry’s Harvard legal education has come through for him here. The Georgia state law conferring civil immunity upon llama handlers is real, so well done sir.
Jennifer Byrne: Should have known. Should have known.
J.W. Freiberg: Thank you.
Jonathan Amarilio: And that’s going to be our show for today. I want to thank our guest J.W. Freiberg for his words of wisdom and solace. You can check out some of his work on the lonelinessbooks.com or his two books, the latest to be released in June.
I also want to thank my co-host Jen Byrne, the Chicago Bar Association and everyone at the Legal Talk Network, all of whom are doing a really admirable job under trying circumstances.
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Young and young-ish lawyers have interesting and unscripted conversations with their guests about legal news, events, topics, stories and whatever else strikes our fancy.