In this meditation, Donne asserts that all humans are interconnected. What happens to one person affects everyone else, because we are all part of God's kingdom and creation. Donne writes,
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
Donne uses a famous geographic metaphor to describe the interconnectedness of all people, stating that
no man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent.
It is easy to visualize ourselves as a series of completely individual islands, a group of archipelagos, separate from each other, but Donne says that is not true. We are all part of a larger whole and dependent on each other.
Therefore, we all participate in everyone else's suffering. In Donne's time, a church bell was rung every time a person died to let the community know. Donne states in his meditation that every time he hears the bell toll, he considers it to be tolling for him. We, too, should do the same. He states,
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
This isn't only because we all ultimately will die, but because we all lose out on gifts and talents when a member of the community dies—we as a whole are diminished.
Donne argues that it is not morbid to think of other people's sufferings as our own, because we all grow stronger and more compassionate as we take on suffering. Donne calls on his listeners to crawl out of their self-absorbed shells and realize they are part of a larger humanity.