Interview: Christian Fein’s #KeinerBleibtAllein-initiative helps people find companionship over the holidays.
It’s that time of the year when the days get shorter and darker. It’s the time of the year when many people feel extremely lonely because Christmas and New Year’s Eve are ahead. This season can be painful and extremely hard for people of every age. The struggles of the past year seem to catch up with us: Maybe the loss of a partner, or mental health issues that make connecting to new people even harder. For everybody feeling lonely in Germany – you’re not alone. The hashtag #KeinerBleibtAllein helps people through Facebook and Twitter connect with each other.
I had a chat with the founder of this initiative, Christian Fein, to talk about his organization and spread this wonderful idea.
#KeinerBleibtAllein reached 3,9 million people on Twitter and could help around 700 people find company for Christmas and New Year’s.
Hello Christian! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your organization. Can you tell us in a few sentences what #KeinerBleibtAllein is about and how everything started?
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about this project. #KeinerBleibtAllein is a project to fight against solitude and loneliness. Obviously, we can only fight loneliness, because solitude is an internal process within everyone, but it could help reduce the feeling of being alone. We assist people to find fellowship for special holidays, such as Christmas or New Year’s. The participants, no matter if they offer or search for companionship, have to write us a message on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the name of their town and we try to find company for them locally.
It started with a single tweet, the hashtag #KeinerTwittertAllein (“no one tweets alone”) and my personal wish to have a “digital” Christmas party on Twitter. This was two years ago. After that experience, last year I had the same thought and so I tried to assign people who knew they would be alone on Christmas to other people who offered a seat at the Christmas-table for them. And it worked. I reached 3,9 million people via Twitter and could help around 700 people in total to find company for Christmas and New Year’s. All in all, around 2500 people participated in this project.
Fifty percent of all meetups via #KeinerBleibtAllein are successful.
Wow! These are huge numbers! What kind of people search for help or connection? How old are they? I read tweets asking for meetups, but what the followers can’t see is: do those people really meet and what is it like?
First, it’s important to understand loneliness. No matter how old or how healthy, some people suffer from loneliness in a way that I, myself, could not imagine. Loneliness is like death: it happens, but no one wants to talk about it. This is one of the reasons why I volunteered for people to reach out to me through direct messages on Twitter.
Fifty percent of all meetups via #KeinerBleibtAllein are successful. But we didn’t want to be involved directly in the process, so we just suggest profiles – someone seeking and someone offering companionship – and they have to decide on their own if it fits or not, after exchanging messages. If it doesn’t fit, we search for other options in the same town.
After that success, this year we also tried to help people find companionship throughout the year, but it didn’t work that well, as we found out. The reason for this is simple: if there is no context for a meet-up, people don’t start to talk to each other, on the contrary, they start to close up their formerly open mind about a meeting a stranger. All in all, just 25 percent of the matches we made in 2018 were working well.
But 25 % is better than nothing! You posted this video on Twitter where you show how easy it is to connect people.
I know this from concerts – most of the time I attend concerts alone. During the wait at the entrance, I can start conversations easily. I’ve found many friends this way. But I wouldn’t talk to people I don’t know on the streets. In your opinion, why are so many people alone if it’s actually easy to connect to strange people, as the video shows?
This question may be one of the important ones that mankind still has to answer. From our experience with this project, it differs why some people can easily connect to each other and others can’t. In many cases, people had bad experiences in the past, or they just moved to a new town and don’t know where to go to meet others. Some are single mothers, who cannot leave their home, others are freshly divorced men, who don’t know how to handle their situation, some are elderly.
Then there is another factor: Are you living in a big city or in a small town? In a city, it is quite easy to just talk to a random person, but therefore the contact itself is lost. In a village it is different: almost everyone knows each other and this is sometimes the reason why they don’t talk to one another, but the bond in a friendship is much stronger than in the city. A situation as it was shown in the video would only work in a city because everyone is a stranger to the other. It’s a bit paradox, but this is what we have experienced.
It is much easier for people to come together within a subculture.
I think the situation in the video resembles what often happens at concerts: if we just start talking we will find commonalities!
There is still some prejudice about metalheads that people, who listen to heavy music and dress in black “are depressive and don’t have friends”. What do you think about that after bringing so many people together?
I myself listen to metal, hardcore, and progressive rock, so I share the idea of being stigmatized from the outside. But, in the end, it’s just the context of another subculture and, as in every subculture, it is much easier for people to come together within the subculture. The “depressive” stigma, may come from the outside, but within the metal culture, there are many optimistic lyrics, ideas, and humor. Sure, the music sounds hard for people, who aren’t part of the scene. But in the end, it’s just another group of people. Like the ones in the video: their common context was to have a coffee surrounded by nice pillows and wooden tables.
People that are lonely for too long have a higher chance to take their own life one day.
Mental health is an important topic, especially on social media. During the last couple of years, many celebrities/musicians like Chester Bennington, Chis Cornell or Avicii died due to mental health issues. Every day too many people decide to end their life as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Do you think that loneliness brings people to the point they can’t handle it anymore? Do you think #KeinerBleibtAllein can prevent this in some way?
Loneliness is something like a starter kit into depression and other mental illnesses if one didn’t want to be alone. #KeinerBleibtAllein cannot prevent suicide, which occurs at a much later state of mental issue. What we can do, is just prevent it from starting. This is the reason why we also work with hashtags. It is much easier for everyone to see and people think all the time about the words “No one stays alone” and so they are more open to going to others who seem lonely.
But to your first question: Yes, I think that people that are lonely for too long have a higher chance to take their own life one day.
The goal of #KeinerBleibtAllein is to physically connect people, who will, in turn, start offering and searching for contacts on their own.
Do you work with therapists to help your followers a bit more? Like some kind of online group therapy with followers or something, which can help them in a crisis? I think it must be hard for you to deal with all the messages you get every day.
We thought about offering people something like a therapy-network, thinking that it might helpt even if they just talk to each other. But some of them are in a loop of thoughts they cannot get out of without professional help. This is the reason why we also work together with a German crisis line, to lead the people to them, because they have trained and experienced staff. For sure, if we believe there is a crisis situation we call the ambulance directly. This occurs up to 6 times a week.
Our goal for the future is that people deal with loneliness as we deal with depression today. See for example the hashtag #notjustsad, but with the difference that they use #KeinerBleibtAllein to get connected physically to each other and start offering and searching for contacts on their own. We know this is a huge goal and it requires a lot of effort, but we believe that this is the only way that people become a community again.
Your organization works in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Do you know similar organizations in other parts of the world for our international readers?
We’ve done a lot of research in the past and from we what we know today, we are the only organization that is working that way we do it. In England, there is a Minister Of Loneliness. Additionally, there is, a “campaign against loneliness” that works differently and is located in the UK as well.
So at the moment #KeinerBleibtAllein is a unique organization! So sad, because loneliness is everywhere and doesn’t stop at borders. What is your wish for the holidays and the future of #KeinerBleibtAllein?
My wish for the holidays is that #KeinerBleibtAllein remains in the heart of many people and can help as many of them as possible to have a great end of the year. For the future, I hope that #KeinerBleibtAllein will be used as a resource to get together in several social platforms.
#KeinerBleibtAllein can only be as successful as you are willing to help them spread the word, so that no one has to spend the holidays alone.
Anything else what you want to say? Anything I haven’t asked?
Share the initiative on the social networks, tell your friends about us and, if you have the chance, be kind to others. Because we can only be as successful as you are willing to help us spread the word, so that no one has to spend the holidays alone.
I hope we could spread your intention and, again, thank you very much for this interview. You have my biggest respect for #KeinerBleibtAllein!
Thank you for the chance to talk about it.
If you like what #KeinerBleibtAllein does, please share this article and tell us your thoughts about it in the comments!