Yesterday I happened to see a Dr. Phil show on one of the Dutch commercial channels. This is not a channel I often watch. And Dr. Phil’s show isn’t at the top of my list of “favorites.” A few years ago my wife and I got a tour of the Paramount studios in Los Angeles and we saw, among other things, the studio where Dr. Phil’s program is recorded. It is a very popular program of which there have been about 2700 episodes since 2002. Dr. Phil McGraw (as his full name is) became famous from the moment he regularly appeared on the Opra Winfrey show. Since then he got his own program, in which relational and lifestyle problems are central. I continue to be amazed that people are willing to have their most intimate problems analyzed by Dr. Phil in front of the cameras, with an adiene of tens of millions of people.
Yesterday I saw an episode in which a (American) woman of (I guess) 60-plus was the main person. She had, I understood, become a widow and had subsequently tried to find a friend via a dating site. In this way she had come into contact with three different men. She enjoyed the contacts she had gotten with these men. She was addressed with all kinds of affectionate names, and she enjoyed the constant assurances that she was an extraordinarily sweet and special woman. But none of these men lived in the U.S., and while these online “relationships” had now flourished for a few years, she had not met any of these men in person. What these men had in common was that they (according to what they said) went from one hardship to the next, and needed urgent help to get out of their acute financial problems. Their “sweetheart” in the U.S. was sensitive to such pleas and wired them in the last three years a total of no less than $266,000.
The sad story showed that this was not a rich lady. On the contrary. She had taken out an extra mortgage on her house, sold valuables, took out loans, etcetera. Now, during Dr. Phil’s program, she finally realized she’d been swindled in a sophisticated way. During the conversation, it also became clear what had made her so susceptible to the scams of her three friends. It can be summed up in one word: LONELINESS
(We have seen all too often also in the world of religion that people with modest financial means fall victim to swindlers who cleverly exploit others (often older women). Televangelists, but also leaders of other so called “independent ministries,” are often masters in relieving their victims’ of their last bit of savings).
But, back to the lady in Dr. Phil’s program. Unfortunately, loneliness is a great problem that leads many (especially, but not exclusively) elderly people to desperation. Most of them don’t appear in talk shows. Of some we suspect that they are lonely, but many try to keep it hidden that they are lonely. During the past few months it has been extra hard for many people to see and talk to others. Now that social life is starting up again, it is obvious that our priority is to visit (or receive visits from) family and friends. But, unfortunately, there are too many people who can’t expect a family visit and don’t have any kind of social network. They are people who are lonely. Couldn’t we decide that we also regularly visit someone who doesn’t belong to our immediate family or our circle of friends, but of whom we know (or suspect) that he/she is lonely and would enjoy a little personal attention? Surely that shouldn’t be too difficult. . .?!