J.C. Derrick: Breaking out of bubbles

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, October 21st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick now with some observations on our tendency to self-segregate.

J.C. DERRICK, COMMENTATOR: I often do my morning work at a local Starbucks here in Dallas. Typically my head is down, headphones in, and I’m glued to my computer screen. 

Still, I can’t help but people watch at times. There’s always a range of interesting things to observe, from a person’s Bible reading to contentious work meetings.

One thing I’ve noticed is the increasing number of people who walk in, grab their drink, and walk out. Rarely do these people speak a word. No hello, no “thanks for making my drink.” 

It’s certainly an efficient way to order, thanks to the Starbucks app. They’re in and out in seconds. 

But I’ve noticed a trend: many of these people have scowls on their faces. Or at the very least, few seem happy. The handy app promotes efficiency, but the users seem worse for it. 

On the other hand, people waiting in line are more often chatting—with each other and the baristas. Smiles and laughs aren’t uncommon over there.  

This observation seems relevant to at least three cultural trends. 

First, we have in our country an epidemic of people who do not feel like they’re part of a community. Fewer people know their neighbors. Fewer are going to church. Fewer are involved in community associations and activities: from the Rotary Club to Little League baseball, numbers are down. 

These associations are the cultural bedrock Alexis de Tocqueville identified as what made America so unique. 

Meantime, a lack of community creates a breeding ground for mental health problems. 

And that leads to the second trend: We have a worsening suicide problem. The American Psychological Association reports that suicide rose some 30 percent in the United States between the year 2000 and 2016. 

Obviously there are many contributing factors to that statistic, but loneliness is one of them. Community helps combat mental health problems. 

Third, racial strife continues to bedevil our culture. While there is no silver-bullet solution, friendships with people who are different than you is a good start. 

A study by the Public Religion Research Institute found most of us don’t do a good job of that. It found the average white person has one black friend, one Latino friend, and one Asian friend. Out of 100. 

The average black American has eight white friends out of 100. Some 75 percent of whites and 67 percent of blacks have entirely homogenous social networks. 

So where do diverse friendships come from? Well, not from a government program or some grand plan. And not from social media echo chambers.

Friendship starts with “hello.” So does loving our neighbor. 

And to get to that point, it might take spending more time on the front porch. 

It might take less time staring down at our phones. 

Or it might take the extra minute to order in the Starbucks line.

For WORLD Radio, I’m J.C. Derrick.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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2 comments on J.C. Derrick: Breaking out of bubbles

  1. Joe M says:

    So not wanting to wait in line in Starbucks translates into suicide? Please let’s have this piece is unsubstantiated.

  2. Joseph McCoy says:

    I believe Mr. Derrick was using Starbucks as and example and indicating that the preponderance and ease of doing all things in isolation is not good. It’s the constant struggle we have in humanity that both Emmerson and Thoreau wrote about. Technology and convenience always has it’s pros and cons .

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