Tribes and Lost Connections

Is the loneliness we feel these days a signal to get back to our tribes?
(790 words)
IELTS Reading Questions:
Matching Headings & Short Answer Questions

A  Is the increase in loneliness these days connected to the fact that we used to live in tribes but now live much more independently? War journalist Sebastian Junger and writer Johann Hari believe that it’s at least part of the story.

B  Sebastian Junger spent a year with a group of US soldiers in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan during the war. In a 2014 TED talk he describes how these soldiers were stationed in a place without internet, TV, girls, running water or cooked food, a place where the fighting was intense and people got shot. Yet, after returning home, when one of the soldiers was asked if he missed anything about the war, he answered, “I miss almost all of it”. Junger says that the soldier clearly didn’t miss killing people or seeing his friends being killed, so what did he miss?

C  He believes that one of the things that the soldier missed was brotherhood, the connection and belonging that he felt as part of the group of soldiers. He explains that in combat the soldiers were almost never alone: they worked, lived and slept in a small and very close group, and in this group, they cared for and constantly looked out for each other. However, back in modern American society, the soldier had no idea who he could count on or who loved him. Junger argues that, in some ways, war would be easier than the alienation the soldier felt after coming home to America.

D  Although criticised by some for his glorification of war, Junger’s idea about the human need to belong is an important one. In his book, Tribe, he expands on this, arguing that one of the things we need to be content in our lives is to feel connected to other people. That need for connection is an evolved one, coming from our past when we lived in small hunter-gatherer tribes and depended on each other for survival. However, that connection has decreased in modern society as we have gained more financial independence and don’t need to rely on other people as much, and this lack of belonging can lead to isolation and an increased risk of depression for anyone, not just returning soldiers.

E  Writer Johann Hari also believes that we haven’t evolved for life alone the way many of us live it now. He explains that in our tribes we shared food and worked together to survive. We felt secure in these groups, and if we became separated for a long period of time, we would feel a sense of dread and alertness – a signal to get back to the group. Hari adds that in recent years we have left our tribes and lost many of our connections, and we have begun to think that doing things alone is natural, but the loneliness we feel these days comes from the previously evolved signal to get back to our groups.

Hari’s book about depression, Lost Connections, looks at the disconnection that we experience in modern life and the effect it has on us. In it he interviewed John Cacioppo, an expert on loneliness, who explained that when people are lonely for extended periods of time, they become hyper-vigilant and afraid of social contact, avoiding the thing that they need the most. And over time loneliness can lead to increased stress and even depression. Similar to the soldier’s experience of returning home from war, lonely people, disconnected from their tribes, struggle because they feel that no one is looking out for them.

G  Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone, according to Cacioppo, and it’s not always reduced by more social contact – in his research he found that some of the loneliest people interacted with a lot of people on a daily basis. He concluded that you do need other people in your life, but just being around others is not enough. You also need people who are looking out for you and who you look out for in turn, and you need be sharing something that you feel is meaningful with other people – to be ‘in it together’ in some way. It’s when we aren’t sharing anything that is important to us that we feel most lonely, he says.

H  Although the increase in loneliness in modern society is probably more complicated than simply the effects of moving away from our tribes, it does seem that Junger, Hari and Cacioppo have hit on important ideas about how we might increase our sense of belonging. Having people in your life that you can count on and with whom you can communicate what you feel is important, and being ‘in it together’ with a group working towards meaningful goals all seem to be important.

IELTS Reading Questions for Tribes:
Matching Headings & Short Answer Questions.

Sources and links from Tribes and Lost Connections

TED talk by Sebastian Junger about soldiers missing war. 
Sebastian Junger’s website with the book Tribe and other information.
Johann Hari’s website with the book Lost Connections and information about depression.
Image by Grae Dickason from Pixabay

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Rawia

    Thanks Nick
    What an article! was really challenging, loved it though ,

    1. Nick

      Thanks Rawia.
      Nice comment.

  2. Samad Ali

    Thanks so much for sharing good points
    i am from Afghanistan but currently i live in Mumbai in India.

    1. Nick

      Hi Samad.
      Thanks for your comment. Glad you liked it.

  3. Masroor

    Why is the answer of question 2 iv? Would you please explain to me? There is no mention of combat in the second paragraph.

    1. Nick

      Hi Masroor.
      So some things to think about when answering these questions:
      1. Think about synonyms (words that mean the same thing); combat means fighting, and paragraph B says, ‘the fighting was intense’.
      2. For matching headings, you are often looking for the main idea of the paragraph. The key points of paragraph B are something like: journalist with soldiers in a bad place with intense fighting, but (strangely) when they got home, they missed it = missing combat.
      I realise that the word ‘combat’ appears in paragraph C, but the main idea of paragraph C is explaining what it was about combat that the soldiers missed – it was ‘belonging’; the paragraph introduces that idea in the first sentence, then gives details about what gave them a sense of belonging, and then contrasts it with a lack of belonging back in America (alienation).
      Hope that helps.

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