Social Isolation and Farmers

Social isolation is not exclusive to farmers – let me make that point clear.
Apparently there are two ends of the scale for socialization. At one end of the scale you have high maintenance people (like me apparently) who need feed-back from people to make them function properly and feel valued. At the other end of the scale are those who don't need feed-back. If everything is going well they are fine, and they only want to know when there is a problem.

Lighthouse keepers and many farmers tend to fall into the later end of the scale. Some farmers get up in the morning, saddle up the horse, put their lunch in the saddle bag, let the dogs out and go out onto the farm shifting stock all day. They get home at night and unless something is wrong they are quite happy.

More modern farmers may have the same process, but put ear plugs in, climb onto the tractor and work all day on their own. Many may sit in an air conditioned cab with the radio going all day. Personally, I well remember sitting on a large tractor in Canterbury for 1000 hours in a year as a lead up to going to university. The boss brought out morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea and drove the tractor for the times that I stopped. Socially isolating yes, was I happy? Not particularly, it was too quiet for me. Interestingly I sat on that tractor with no shirt when it was hot and no ear plugs or muffs. I am very hard of hearing now (my wife will attest to that)!

Maybe some people chose to be farmers because they do not have to talk to people and they like the isolation. Who are we to say they should be more socially integrated and talk to their neighbours anyway . There are also many socially active farmers.

As we all move into semi-retirement then not only do we need to be more socially integrated, but we also need a place to meet. That may be the Gun Club, a Probus Group, the golf club or a cycle group (whatever spins your wheels). It seems we replace the tractor with clubs and more people contact.

Again however, some farmers may prefer to live in the "lighthouse" or on their farm until they die and that is okay for them, but what if the wife or partner is social and wants more company? He just might end up in the "lighthouse" on his own.

The reason I am talking about social isolation is because ...
  • I have seen a lot of this issue with my work
  • Often those socially isolated do not seem that happy. They often avoid crowds and functions because who will they chat to and what will they talk about? They often feel insecure in a crowd and may well wander off to be with themselves again.
  • I have also noticed that the "attitude" that comes with not wanting to hang or be social with people, particularly their partner, tends to bring out a lot of issues as they retire .
  • Partners complain bitterly of loneliness and/or unwillingness of their "mate" to go and do social stuff together.
  • In the business world this may be that they work hard all week and want to stop all weekend and say and do little. The Partner may be ready for action and wonder where her mate has gone.
  • When he or she complains, the isolated cannot understand. He or she has worked all week to provide and everything should be peaceful and happy. Not so.

It appears to me that aloneness and social isolation (as distinct from depression) tends to be more with "we" blokes than the Fairer sex. Maybe it is the man that chooses the farming life, not the wives?

Depression and social isolation are different, but my observation has been that those who are socially isolated will have a greater tendency to be depressed from time to time.

I thought we were social animals who like to live in the cave together. The thought of one of us hanging out at the back of the cave is a bit hard to understand.

In summary, social isolation comes in many forms, for some it is how they prefer to live, for others it is dead lonely. It seems this social isolation is fine while you are busy on the farm, but as soon as you go to retirement mode off the farm it may become a huge issue. How are you going to cope with being up against people, to talk, mix and chat when you are used to be being alone on the farm all day? Are you going to join clubs and mix, or stay home all day while your social partner goes out and enjoys life? What is wrong with we blokes having coffee like women do?

Disclaimer – These are the opinions of Don Fraser of Fraser Farm Finance. Any decisions made should not be based on this article alone and appropriate professional assistance should be sought.
Don Fraser is the Principal of Fraser Farm Finance and a consultant to the Farming Industry.
Contact him on 0800 777 675 or 021 777 675 A disclosure document is available on request.


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