The holidays are always a mixed blessing for those of us who value our “alone time.” My wife has to drag me to parties, but then I usually have fun when I attend. During the pandemic it was a small blessing for us introverts to see these parties go into hibernation. Alas, they have returned this year, often with a vengeance to catch up in their revelry, size, noise and meaningless chatter. It’s not really the parties I don’t enjoy, it’s only some of the people attending!
It appears that I am not, uh, alone. According to the Census Bureau American Time Use Study, which apparently is a real thing we pay the government to do, we have all been spending more time alone since way back in 2014! The pandemic just made it more socially acceptable. In 2019, Americans already spent only four hours a week with friends, a decline of 37 percent in just five years.
We should pause to note that cell phone market penetration crossed 50 percent in 2014. Add some polarization to make us fearful of political discourse, and is it any wonder that we spend less time with others?
This trend includes all age groups (though exacerbated in younger generations), racial, urban/rural, married/unmarried, and parent/non-parent groups.
The trend reversed but just slightly post-pandemic, but we are still behind the 2019 levels. We don’t know yet how much we have each changed permanently due to the pandemic, and a Pew Research Center study found that 35 percent of Americans say that large gatherings, going out and socializing have become less important since COVID. Every day we can see that more of us now have our meals and groceries delivered. We stream movies at home. And most distressing, we don’t go to church as often and maybe not at all. Even putting faith aside, this can’t be a healthy outcome.
Our Society’s Mission Statement, coincidentally revised before the pandemic, starts with the words “A network of friends…” Through attention to these words perhaps we can start to reverse this trend.
Friendship has always been one of our Society’s Essential Elements, along with Spirituality and Service. We know as well that the Society was created by a group of college friends and an adviser. At times, some Conferences gloss over the importance of friends meeting together in their rush to serve and seek holiness. In trying to satisfy our mission, we may be forgetting that making and maintaining friendships, as well as relationships with those we serve, is our mission!
As we come out of the holidays, we hopefully renewed some friendships at all those darn parties we were dragged to, I mean invited to attend. Let’s keep those relationships going and with some Vincentian zeal. Let’s also think of who we didn’t see at those holiday gatherings and seek them out. Maybe they aren’t well, or afraid to gather, or like me, they just may need an extra nudge to be sociable sometimes. You have my blessing, in fact my fervent wish, that you be that nudge!
Good friends are hard to find, so let’s not lose some due to carelessness and unintentional neglect. Just like with customers, it is easier to keep a current friend than to make a new one. We know too that many hands make light work, and that many minds create better solutions to serve people in need. We also recognize that we all benefit from praying and serving as friends more than coming together as acquaintances now and then for a service project. The continuity of friendships was modeled for us by Christ’s Apostles, and we continue this tradition of serving as a faith-based team of friends in deed and spirit.
We speak often about making new friends and inviting them into our beloved Society. Let’s take stock of our Vincentian relationships, and then start 2023 right by adding to our network of friends. You might even find an occasion to throw a party!
Yours in Christ,