Last updated 12/26/2023 at 9:14am
One of the most gratifying aspects of newspaper work is the connections you make.
We writerly folk are often introverts by temperament — most comfortable wandering our own mental landscape or absorbed in a book. Those of us get pushed or pulled into journalism are pushed out into a wider world, compelled by the demands of the work to enter other people’s spheres, engage with them and tell their stories.
We’re lucky. I feel especially fortunate doing this work in a small town, where the connections forged through telling the community’s stories are no passing thing. I have come to know artists and activists, public servants, and entrepreneurs. Through The Nugget, I interact with school kids and community elders; creative thinkers and big-hearted volunteers. Folks who are experiencing wonderful success, and some who are going through struggles and hard times.
It’s a privilege and an honor to tell their stories, which are always surprising and have more ups and downs and twists and turns than what might appear on the surface.
Some of those folks have become close friends — and I might not have ever made a connection with them if it weren’t for the work I do.
I got to thinking about this after reading an article on Politico a couple of days ago on Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s campaign to combat loneliness as a threat to our health and well-being. I shared it with Kellen Klein, executive director of Citizens4Community.
Kellen is one of those folks who I connected with through work. Might not have crossed paths otherwise, and I’m glad I did. I like the guy, even though he makes cracks about the condition of my hat.
C4C and The Nugget partnered on an October Town Hall discussion of the epidemic of loneliness and isolation that has alarmed the surgeon general and launched an effort by St. Charles Family Health to mitigate it. Among the takeaways from the Town Hall: Loneliness and isolation do plague folks in Sisters — and we’re in a lot better shape than most places.
The Politico piece found Surgeon General Murthy out on college campuses encouraging connection. He served up a five-day challenge to write and send a message to someone you’re grateful for in 45 seconds — and do that for five days running. The idea was to show the digitally dependent — who feel that constant screen time has created more isolation than connection — that the technology actually can be “used for good.”
“What we’ve heard from many students is that social media in its current form has ended up making many of them feel worse about themselves and about their friendships,” Murthy told Politico. “We also know that during the height of the pandemic, being able to video conference with their friends was actually a blessing and a great way to stay in touch.
“Part of the reason we have people use their phones to send that message is as a reminder: We can use our technology in positive ways to strengthen connection, but we have to be really intentional about it. If those can be bridges to offline connection, that’s even better. It’s not about tech being good or bad. It’s about how it’s designed and how we use it that ultimately determines whether it helps or hurts us.”
Well, OK, good start. I guess. Like he said, maybe a bridge to offline connection.
Offline connection is better. Nothing beats sitting down with someone face to face and having a conversation. Or walking together on a trail, whether you’re talking or not (the Sisters High School IEE concept of “noble silence” is, well, noble). You don’t always need conversation to be connected. I have an innate bias in this direction, but I believe nothing connects people quite like the shared experience of live music.
We have so many opportunities for real connection in Sisters — and we can sustain those even as the community grows and changes. Among the “tools” for combatting loneliness and isolation identified at that Town Hall was the simple willingness to extend an invitation to somebody — for coffee, dinner, going to a show. The flip side of that, the group agreed, is that you have to be willing to say “yes” when someone reaches out.
I feel pretty lucky that my job actually requires me to say “yes” a lot. Sure, I still need to get my woods time in, by myself. But the work has created connections for me that have made my life infinitely richer.
So, I guess my message to someone I’m grateful for goes out to the whole lot of you. Thanks for being who and what you are.