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Can I ask what your problem is?

Bill Fox

Bill Fox

By Bill Fox/Columnist

When Mother Teresa first came to Toronto in the early 1970s, she spoke at Massey Hall, and afterwards some people wanted to go back to India and help her with her work. However, Mother Teresa said she did not want people to join her in India because we had a bigger problem in the Toronto area than she had in India.

In Calcutta where she lived, the problems were evident. You could see people living in the streets and they needed homes and shelter. You could see some people were destitute and almost naked and they obviously needed to be cared for and clothed.

But in our area, she said we had a bigger problem, which was not so easy to see. What do you think that problem is?

Ill assume some of you are guessing incorrectly that it might be addictions or crime or even greed and materialism. While these are great concerns, that is not what Mother Teresa saw as our biggest problem. Pollution, climate change, traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing? Again these are concerns that need to be addressed but again not our biggest problem.

Mother Teresa saw our biggest problem as loneliness.

At the time I had been living for two years in an apartment building in the Downsview area, and I knew absolutely no one in the building other than my roommate. Was she right?

As a high school teacher, I could see many students at lunch sitting alone and there were even teachers that chose not to go to the staff room for lunch, but to eat in their classrooms and do work isolating themselves from their peers.

In my opinion, loneliness and now even isolation is becoming our greatest social problem.

You see it every day. You can walk down the street or in our malls and you see people with ear buds stuck in their ears listening to music I assume, or on their cell phones, but probably unaware of you and I approaching.

Sometimes when we do interact with people, we want to do the talking because we have become so isolated.

There are two examples that come readily to mind.

I notice people like to talk at their barbershop or hairdresser. How many of us can say that we genuinely ask them how they are doing? I would imagine that they listen to people talking all day long, but few ever ask them how they’re doing?” often isn’t really a question that we want answered in detail. Maybe it should be?

I recently had to get my blood work results from my doctor. It is usually very businesslike and professional, but I knew he had been away for a while and asked him about his “holiday.”

We chatted for a good 10 minutes as he had been doing some charity work outside of Canada and helped to build some simple housing and had treated over 100 patients in the few weeks he was away.

I really cherish the fact that I did get to see the compassionate human behind the “doctor” title.

I know of several truck drivers. One, in particular, seemingly loves to talk, and it is most often all about himself. When you consider how lonely and isolating that occupation can be, it is understandable that even though hundreds or thousands of other drivers may surround him, for the most part, he is isolated all day long in his truck cab.

More about isolation in a future column. Meanwhile, I’m at bdfox@rogers.com.

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