Fawn Anderson of OurFriendlyWorld.com: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic
Change the way we work and share. The work week needs to be shorter. We as Americans work so much pay so much in taxes but we don’t have healthcare, dental care, child care, time to spend with family… We must support our families, especially mothers. I am always mistreated by pediatricians, supermarket clerks, fellow moms…let’s give each other more understanding. By sharing, I mean let’s become a village again and help each other through life. Talk about the taboos that make us uncomfortable. The best way to not let emotions build up and get stored in your body is to feel it completely for 90 seconds. The more comfortable we become with hardships, the less taboo they are and the more capacity we have to be there for one another.
As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Fawn Anderson.
Fawn is a humanitarian-focused, architectural photographer, founder of the social movement Our Friendly World, geared at making our world friendlier, and host of the podcast, Our Friendly World with Fawn and Matt, dedicated to moving our society away and out of the loneliness epidemic and into a happier, friendlier world. On their podcast, Fawn and her husband Matt invite listeners to the friendly, welcoming world of their kitchen table to discuss ways in which we can create a socially, economically, and racially compassionate world through the art of friendship.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
I am proof that babies comprehend and remember everything around them. From the time I was a toddler, I quietly observed the culture I was born into — in Iran — as well the one my family and I had moved to in the United States. I listened and watched everything, everywhere, and I remember it all.
I witnessed my family try to manage living in a country with a diverse range of kindness and animosity. I saw and felt a tug of war that existed on just about every level. I felt racial/cultural acceptance one day, and its total opposite the next. I felt the closeness of one culture that held their elders and young close under one roof; under another, children were told they were out on their own at age eighteen, as their elders were put into a separate home. I saw parents splitting up and kids carrying keys and raising themselves until their parents came home from long hours at work.
I grew up noticing the behaviors of our society through immigrant eyes, ears, and heart, and I took a mental note of EVERYTHING. I later studied fine art photography and went to work on documenting all the feelings and the nuances of our global cultures, in pursuit of figuring out the reasons for deep, underlying pain in our society. Why did the United States seem less embracing of its own people than in other countries?
BUT, the reason why I started this career alongside my photography work, was this: years ago, after moving away from my Mentor, which is how I view the city of Santa Monica, California; the one who guided and taught me everything about friendship (I go into full details on our very first episode on our podcast “Our Friendly World with Fawn and Matt” episode “The Mentor”). My husband Matt and I became increasingly aware of an unsettling shift. When once, we made friends wherever we went, we suddenly found ourselves feeling it was impossible to even have one friend over for a meal, or to just hang out with. We blamed ourselves in the beginning but then realized there was something else happening. We looked around and noticed how the landscape of friendship had changed. Alongside technological advancement, meaningful connection was becoming a lost art. A wave or a nod constituted a friendship for people. Conversations were gossip fests at the local coffee shop with the barista. I even confronted a gossiper whom I discovered was speculating on my own life once, and told him I would gladly tell him my story myself — instead of him going out of his way to listen through our bushes of our adjacent properties. He preferred the gossip route. Out of frustration one day, on our daily walk, I spouted out to Matt, “I thought it was hard to find that one true love in this world, but now, it feels like dating all over again, just to find a FRIEND!” That day, with Mount Rainier and the beach as our witness, we jokingly came up with the plan of having a dating service like Match.com but to find a platonic friend. Little did we know, our intention around this would get serious really fast. And so, here we are today, the matchmaking site all coded and fully growing podcast devoted to the art of friendship.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’m not sure this is the most interesting, but it was profound and defining for me. One day I stood in the hospital, having left our little girls with strangers in order to be with my husband in ICU. I was grasped by fear and total desolation as the doctors told me my husband would not make it. That day, was the last day I ever heard from those I believed then to be my best friends. To this day, they do not know if we are alive or not. (My husband is totally fine now). These “friends” just disappeared. I never heard from them again. It was betrayal on top of trauma. Dealing with trauma is really excruciating. When you add betrayal or abandonment to that, it is beyond scarring to your spirit and even your physical heart.
I know first-hand the many types of loneliness that exist. People often think I am totally bubbly and upbeat all the time. You may have never known, looking at me standing alone in that hospital, that I was the founder of this friendship movement. I felt completely alone. But — I grew from this point on. I began to research even more and understand the true meaning of CAPACITY and why people disappear. I found some answers and I share it all the time on our podcast and anywhere else I can. I also went back to Aristotle and studied his Nicomachean Ethics, not only for my own sake, the sake of our girls who’ve had their feelings hurt by people, but for everyone else out there. I want everyone to know the true meaning of a true friend; how to know who is a lifelong friend, and who is there superficially and where their capacity level is.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
I think it’s all too fresh right now and there’s nothing funny about it to me, BUT, Our Friendly World was accepted into this entrepreneurship accelerator where we were routinely telling our “why” and describing what our mission was. I was told by others that what I was doing just didn’t have value. People claimed they felt they had lots of friends and they just didn’t see the need. Now these entrepreneurs were barber shops, food companies, and retail establishments. What is really funny was hearing their pitches begin to resemble mine. One day, a naysayer from a barber shop came up to me, and with a straight face commented on how interesting it was that we were both in the friendship business with the similar purpose and mission of bringing people together through friendship. The turnabout honestly still frustrates me, but in time, I am sure it will be funny. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, I was not flattered. However, around this same time, I came across a speech by Lisa Nichols who said: “If no one in your community gets your vision, it’s because God didn’t give it to them. God gave it to you.”
I have learned not to waste time with naysayers. They don’t get it. And when they do, they will not admit where the idea came from and will probably even claim it as theirs. To all those who experience this, I say — get away from these people and put all your focus and energy towards situations that uplift you. You have important work to do. Leave the judgers behind and run on the path of your destiny.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We our growing our podcast “Our Friendly World with Fawn and Matt” and expanding our work to community Friendship Summits, allowing people to find their true friends (getting matched up with friends) and enjoying time together while playing cooperative games, participating in art projects, taking part in mental health forums, practicing yoga and meditation, listening and creating music, shopping, dining, relaxing, and celebrating life together and creating new family branches. This will help people to create friendships while relaxing. You know… RELAXING, something that is not done in our American culture unless you’re privileged. We are working now on having these summits around the world in preparation for when we can all come back together again.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
I have been observing human behavior and understanding new ways to get people to know something about others and themselves since I came on the scene! One: I am human. I personally have experienced loneliness and have witnessed loneliness beginning as a small child watching my immigrant family be disregarded; longing for friends, having few friends, and sustaining friendships out of desperate necessity that were not the healthiest. Most immigrants can attest, there is a feeling of constantly being on guard and never feeling like you can relax and feel at home, or truly fit in anywhere. As I became a working photographer, traveling our little blue marble, I met our collective soul family and felt that sense of home wherever I went. I talked with people constantly over the years about family and friendship and how their particular relationships were formed and how their relationships worked. I thought these interactions would only be side anecdotes for the photography book I was working on, but it turned out to become a personal life project of mine; my grand opus. My husband and I developed a platonic matchmaking service that matched future best friends within your own neighborhoods and once 2020 began, we really felt the need to bring conversation and stories to everyone at the same time, and so we launched our podcast and put the in-person matchmaking service on hold for a little while. Throughout my experience both personally and professionally, I have been able to study deeply how to be clearly and utterly truthful with ourselves and come to know why we even have this loneliness epidemic to begin with. I have studied many cultures around the world, researched all the world’s religions and philosophies, attended lectures by scientists and come to this point in time now where I am here to be of service to my fellow friends around the world. As a documentary photographer, it is my greatest desire to share everything I have seen, felt, and learned over the past 33 years, share what is happening now and creating a friendlier society going forward. Loneliness and I have known each other quite intimately. I learned how to walk by myself for a while. I also know how to leave it behind. I am here to help everyone else now.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
These articles are true and very scary. Yes, loneliness hurts (emotionally, physically, and finally, it hurts our entire society. When one hurts, we all hurt.
The brain hurts. The prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that’s connected to decision making and social behavior gets smaller. The Hippocampus when touched by loneliness gets smaller, impairing learning and memory and the stress hormone cortisol (affects and is regulated by the hippocampus) is increased. Stress! The amygdala’s size is linked to a person’s social network and to the processing of emotion. When experiencing loneliness, amygdala shrinks.
There is also the heart (a major influenced player in loneliness). A broken heart is a very real thing. Scientists have discovered that in fact there are walls called heart walls. Heart walls get created during pain and cause dysfunction. The heart is now being considered as a second brain. The heart’s magnetic field has been continually measured by researchers and scientists with the magneto-cardiogram, and these measurements have shown that the heart generates 60 to 1000 times more power and electromagnetic energy than the brain.
There are in fact measurable positive effects on the body when we feel love and appreciation toward someone, or something. We also receive these “love signals” from the people who think of us as they feel love and appreciation. They literally show up in our brainwaves! But “I have nobody around me” you say? All you have to do is picture someone or something to have the feeling and that makes the signals appear in your heart and brain. So you see, it works when you are all alone in lockdown. We are more connected that you think.
So, when feeling loneliness for a prolonged period of time, not only does your brain and heart become compromised, but emotionally, you begin believing lies that infect you and your spirit; like you are not lovable, not talented, perhaps you just don’t play well with others, not pretty, skinny, fit, talented enough; just not enough. All these are lies! Another thing that happens is you begin to believe that you’re separate from everyone and everything else in life. This is not true! We are social animals. We need each other. Social energetics (my own term) is a muscle, and when you don’t use it, it atrophies. Have you ever spent the whole day not speaking and involved in a project and when it’s time to talk to a person, you have trouble forming a coherent sentence? That’s what I’m talking about here. It’s ok. We can get through this! Next thing you know, you will be talking and laughing and needing to have some time to yourself to recharge from all the socializing! You will have balance! You will!
I wish psychologists, scientists, and “experts” would stop putting out all these scary stats without concentrating on the positive and the solutions! We don’t need to be scared about one more thing. I am here to tell you that making connections will be easy and that we are already connected! And if you do not have anyone close, look closely! There are trees, stars, squirrels, birds, (cockroaches in my case in my old studio that would greet me every Saturday night when it felt like everyone else was out on a date but me. Even the roaches (Herman and Harriette) were together and chose to include me in their escapades. Isn’t that nice of them?
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
I have always thought that having a sense that you are alone is the greatest joy and opportunity for despots to control a society. When we are feeling alone, we feel powerless and resigned to misdeeds and mistreatment. This leads to a growing complacency. With complacency, things fall apart in our society; from creativity, to learning and adapting to new things, developing a beautiful future, health and well-being of our economy, and taking care of our homes and our greater home, the earth. We just don’t want to be bothered. This causes depression not just emotionally, but fiscally, when society declines in art, communication, and advancement of thought.
If you have a true friend on your side, you have so much more energy and you feel like you can create worlds! Nothing can stop you! You are brave to express your opinions and know you are supported should you get in trouble. With friends — not just superficial connections, but those who know and appreciate us for who we are — we can once again see each other’s humanity. Our society has been growing more fractured in recent decades and when you pay close attention to the words that are prevalent you will see a common theme of dehumanization that has been taking place. But if we are together, when we hear each other, when we truly see each other and feel each other, we will resonate with each other in a way that is compassionate. And when compassion exists, social, racial, and economic injustices cease. With compassion comes respect. With respect comes the knowing that all life is precious. We are precious. Our friendships are precious. Our friendships will transform our world.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
I do not like social media’s grasp on our society, but I also do not blame it for the loneliness epidemic AT ALL. The true problem lies deeper than that, and it began way before the .com era.
1. It starts with our families and the generations that have existed before today. It is the way we have children and immediately put them in daycare.
2. It is how our jobs have become so incredibly competitive and we are treated as disposable. We do not have time to spend with ourselves; we do not have the time to spend with our babies, or enough money to make this happen. Americans work so much! We are often too exhausted and left with no time to connect. To truly connect, we need comfort and peace and not feel stress and anxiety. But stress and anxiety is what most of us feel, with a major dose of insomnia from all the stress and work we’re doing. To truly be capable of connecting, we need time and space to feel and to process and to feel creativity sprout in us. If we don’t have these things, how are we supposed to have friends?! Don’t blame social media. I blame this crazy system we are servants to. Who are we working so much for if it’s not for our loved ones?! We work like machines and we have become machines and we are breaking.
3. We’re at full capacity. We don’t have a vessel that is capable of offering anything to anyone because we are overwhelmed. We aren’t able to converse and if we do, it is way too hard to understand each other because we are depleted and not heard ourselves. When we are in pain, it is impossible to help someone else’s pain. We need playtime. I am here to encourage people to come out and play! First we’re going to talk about all the things we’ve ignored; then we are going to be nourished by each other’s compassion. Then, we’ll play — that is when society can have the luxury of creating beautiful works of art from poetry to compassionate government structures to financial strength, to progress only our imaginations will conceive of when we are supported and loved.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
Ok, here goes: This is how we can flourish!
1. Change the way we work and share. The work week needs to be shorter. We as Americans work so much pay so much in taxes but we don’t have healthcare, dental care, child care, time to spend with family… We must support our families, especially mothers. I am always mistreated by pediatricians, supermarket clerks, fellow moms…let’s give each other more understanding. By sharing, I mean let’s become a village again and help each other through life. Talk about the taboos that make us uncomfortable. The best way to not let emotions build up and get stored in your body is to feel it completely for 90 seconds. The more comfortable we become with hardships, the less taboo they are and the more capacity we have to be there for one another.
2. Let’s stay together as a family (when the family is a healthy place to be — not an abusive setup, of course). Why do we need the big houses with everyone having their own separate room? Look at all the little big ways separations exist. Think about all the microscopic ways that we create distance in our lives and in our relationships starting with our own nuclear families. Let’s share meals together, talk together, sit and do nothing together and just be. It is that simple.
3. Learn to speak different languages. The more tools we have to communicate with, the easier it is to connect. When we learn a new language, our creativity and perspective on life and experiences grow. Plus we understand each other better as we relate through words.
4. Grow more trees in our communities. Nature is an antidepressant. Take notice of areas with trees and how you feel both physically and emotionally. Why is it that mostly peaceful and affluent neighborhoods have more trees no matter how much or how little square footage of living space exists in the area? Having a design concept that is conducive to fresh air, beauty, health and things set up for people to easily congregate is vital to ending the loneliness epidemic. I challenge architects and landscape architects to create structures that better structure our ability to see and move together instead of putting up blinders and dividers.
5. FLAT OUT SAY “I NEED A FRIEND”. The right person will hear you and will heed your call. So many times I have said “I need a friend” and the perfect person shows up like a superhero, and it’s never the person I thought would normally show up. It’s someone else that was the most brilliant one for the task at hand that I never imagined could or would help. Ask and it shall be given.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Right now, I am creating a summit that is for peace, social, economic, and racial justice, guided by the art of friendship. They are community “get-togethers” that exist by being present for one another and creating a world that is highly advanced and compassionate. I call it a friendship summit. What it truly is, is a time and place for us to have the time and space that encompasses interconnectedness, food (breaking bread), healing, design, music, conversation, and respect. It is the getting back to the village where we support each other, one neighborhood connected by the next, all the way around the world.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oh my goodness, I am so glad you asked and my list is long and it would be most amazing for these people to reach out to me. For obvious reasons having to do with tech and business, I want to team up with all the people of The Social Dilemma: (Tristan Harris, Tim Kendall, Jaron Lanier, Roger McNamee, Aza Raskin, Justin Rosenstein, Dr. Shoshana Zuboff, Jeff Seibert, and Sandy Parakilas). Keanu Reeves is someone I want to talk to and to have on our podcast because with all the heartache he has endured, he has remained so compassionate. I really want to work with Dr. Vivek Murthy. He is the one person who truly gets the loneliness epidemic and I want to work with him on an initiative to make our country friendlier. I also want to meet and work with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and get a closer sense of a compassionate leader who has also mastered yoga’s eagle pose. Ricky Gervais will be wonderful to speak with because I love how he brings up taboo subjects. If we all spoke freely about death for example (I am thinking of his show “After Life”), we would show up better for each other. I want to connect with Tyler Perry. He is a compassionate genius. If I could have tea with Oprah, I would probably faint but would get a hold of myself to not miss a word. ALSO: Dr. Ha Vinh Tho. Oh, please, whatever kind force is out there, please help to bring us together!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!
Fawn Anderson of ‘Our Friendly World’: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.