Vivek H. Murthy, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World (New York: HarperCollins, 2020), 326pp.
Two years ago my wife and I sold our house-n-home of twenty five years in Northern California and moved 500 miles south to San Diego. Whereas we had gained a lot of financial equity in that house, by moving south we lost our store of social equity. This was badly exacerbated when just two months after moving to San Diego the mandatory shut downs because of the COVID pandemic began. Having lost twenty-five years of friendships up north, it was nearly impossible to meet any new friends in San Diego. In the language of Vivek Murthy, we had lost our social connections.
Murthy graduated from Harvard University, and then earned his MD and MBA at Yale. He then served as the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States under appointments by Presidents Obama and Biden. In 2014, he imagined that as the nation's "top doc," he would address a familiar litany of national epidemics — obesity, smoking, mental health, heart disease, and the opioid crisis. He started off by doing what he calls a "listening tour" all across the country. To his surprise, he discovered a "recurring topic" that "ran like a dark thread through many of the more obvious issues that people brought to my attention" — an epidemic of loneliness.
Loneliness can be studied as both a cause and an effect of health problems. Some studies suggest that it is as harmful as smoking. Murthy's listening tour also taught him another thing: the healing power of human connection. So, the first part of his book studies the causes and effects of loneliness, while the second half explores the "process of connection that each of us individually must navigate in our own lives." He brings together a broad array of diverse material, including social scientific studies, powerful anecdotes from his listening tour, and, much to his credit, examples from his own family life. The tone of the book exudes empathy and compassion. "Social connection," says Murthy, "stands out as a largely unrecognized and under appreciated force for addressing many of the critical problems we're dealing with, both as individuals and as a society."
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com