The holiday season is a time to come together.

That may be a cliché, but chances are, you need to hear it. God knows we have enough pushing us apart.

Our never-ending political campaigns dwell on our sharpest disagreements. In-person interaction has been supplanted by social media, which feeds off our worst impulses.

In so many other ways, too, our world makes our differences seem greater than they are. This time of year gives us a chance to recognize that and cast it aside – to take people as more than their political beliefs or station in life and try to give them your best as a human being, whether you’ve just met or you’ve known them forever.

That may sound easy, but we’ve made it tremendously difficult.

Instead of neighborhoods that have everything – housing, shopping, employment and amenities – we have bedroom communities with fewer and fewer ties linking neighbors together.


Even before the pandemic, semi-public places where people can socialize and hang out away from home or work were in trouble, with libraries, churches and rec centers suffering from lack of attention and investment. Now bookstores, coffee shops, fast food restaurants and other such spots are struggling with staffing shortages and an stubborn lack of interest post-COVID.

That’s left Americans with fewer opportunities to meet with friends and nurture relationships, or to have the kind of small talk and short, casual interactions that bring a sense of community and raise the quality of one’s life.

More and more, those interactions take place online through social media, and are a lot less kind and invigorating. Too often, they are distorted by the platform’s algorithm, which amplifies the most outrageous voices in order to drive clicks and shares.

Our feeds are filled with the worst forms of every argument and the worst side of every person. It’s not hard to stop seeing them as fellow Mainers, Americans, or even humans – to see them as heartless, faceless enemies rather than whole, flesh-and-blood people with their own histories, world views, blind spots and anxieties.

So it’s no surprise that Americans are in a loneliness crisis, one that also was well underway before we’d ever heard of COVID.

The number of us without any close friends has exploded in the last 30 years, and most of us feel like we don’t have enough people in our orbit.


Loneliness takes a lot of forms, too, and leaves few untouched. Among seniors, it is epidemic. Even before the pandemic disrupted their lives, teens were spending less time with their peers, and developing depression and anxiety at alarming rates.

We can reverse this trend only if we talk more openly about the forces keeping us apart and how we can create the kind of community that counteracts them.

We can build neighborhoods where people of all ages, backgrounds and income levels can live and work. We can invest in public libraries, parks, gymnasiums and community centers.

The communities that have already done this are among the most in-demand places to live. Why aren’t there more like them?

We can support, through good policy, the retail and food service workers who make stores, diners and coffee shops worth going to. We can give all people the stability necessary to take part in their community.

We can encourage people to take the outrage and hopelessness they feel at the state of politics, however they got there, and put it to good use. Local organizations focused on solving local problems always need help – and with so much to do, they rarely get caught up in the outrage-of-the-day nonsense that drives national politics and fills up cable news.

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