Finding Your Fremont

“Loneliness is killing us.”

So claims Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, in his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal. Mr. Sasse offers as evidence the growing rates of suicide and overdose deaths in America.

I’ve written about the loneliness epidemic on multiple occasions, five times in the past six months as a matter of fact.

In an article in Friday’s New York Times, Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and the host of the podcast “The Arthur Brooks Show,” looks at How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart.

Brooks points out that in Sasse’s book, the Senator described what he believes lonely people increasingly do to fill the hole of belonging in their lives: They turn to angry politics, finding a sense of community in the polarized tribes forming on the left and the right in America.

As to why people are becoming lonelier, one reason offered is the changing nature of work and the workplace. Steady work is harder to find and the gig community keeps expanding, thus reducing one of the main sources of relationship building.

Senator Sasse worries even more about “a pervasive feeling of homelessness: Too many Americans don’t have a place they think of as home — a “thick” community in which people know and look out for one another and invest in relationships that are not transient. To adopt a phrase coined in Sports Illustrated, one might say we increasingly lack that ‘hometown gym on a Friday night feeling.’”

Sasse relates it to his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska, where high school sports events on Friday nights drew the townspeople together in a common love for their neighbors and community that made most differences — especially political differences — seem trivial.  After moving away for a couple of decades for school and work, he embraced the deep sense of belonging it created when he returned to Fremont’s small-town life with his own family, even going so far as buying a burial plot for himself in Fremont’s local cemetery.

Brooks then notes how relevant Sasse’s words are to him. Brooks and his wife are preparing to move from Maryland to Massachusetts in the coming months, and fear the loneliness they are sure to feel as they enter a completely new place where neither of them grew up or has ever lived.

So he asks Senator Sasse if a “thick community” and the happiness it brings are out of reach for rootless cosmopolitans like them?

Sasse tells Brooks that he has it all wrong — that moving back home and going to the gym on Friday aren’t actually the point; rather, the trick is “learning how to intentionally invest in the places where we actually live.”

In other words, being a member of a community isn’t about whether you have a Fremont. It is about the neighbor you choose to be in the community you wind up calling your home.

Brooks concludes that each of us can be happier, and America will start to heal, when we become the kind neighbors and generous friends we wish we had.

This reminds me of the phrase I heard a long time ago, if you want a friend, be a friend.

This article was highly relevant to my situation as well. We have talked about moving to Sarasota, Florida in a few years. enticed by the warmer weather and proximity to the beach.

However, we do not know anyone there, and so it would be a major adjustment. Given my inclination for introversion, I recognize the potential problems associated with such a move.

I do have a plan, however, and that is to take the advice of Amy Cuddy in her wonderful TED talk – “fake it ’til you become it”.

Now this doesn’t mean that I plan to fake being a good friend and neighbor, but I will practice what it means to be one, and then hopefully one day, after enough practice, I will become one.

So I’ll throw this out there –  anyone in Sarasota looking for some new friends?

I figure if we start now, by the time we move, we’ll be able to hit the ground running and have friends to greet us the day we move in.

The plan is for Sarasota to become our Fremont. And perhaps instead of Friday night sporting events, the Saturday morning farmers’ market will be our place to find a “thick community.”

*image from Sarasota Magazine

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