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Mar 23·edited Mar 23Liked by Sarah Fay

Sarah, you’re preaching to the converted - sort of. I agree, the constant push to have lots of friends is the usual pop media conventional wisdom about what “everyone” needs. I’ve always framed this as an introvert/extrovert thing - but also as me having a finite well of attention for tending to myself and others. I’ve become more distractible with age, and I consciously limit social interactions, especially during the week.

But (counterpoint 1): I’m not teaching this semester, so I have more attention to give friends - and I find this very satisfying.

And (counterpoint 2): I’m in that 38% of the Pew survey who have 5 or more close friends, and in part that’s because these longtime friends function as family for me, my husband, and son. We don’t have a bio network to rely on. I think everyone does need support networks of some sort, even if they’re just one or two people.

Lastly (counterpoint 3): virtual connections can feed a lot of the need for emotional connection - and I know how lively and engaged you are in such settings 😉 The thing is, such virtuality can be turned on and off at will. While controlling the amount of connection we have can be positive (especially for women), I’m also in favor of the serendipity and stuff I can’t always control in real life.

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Mar 23·edited Mar 23Author

All great points! Though you can remove yourself from people IRL.

Some people just don't gravitate toward having friends, and I'm just rallying for them, so they/we don't feel like there's something wrong with them/us. As you said, it's more the pressure to have friends than having friends per se.

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By replying to Martha, I get to reply to two of my Substack friends at once.

I think you can get a lot out of electronic communications that are substantive. If I think about most of my IRL friend interactions, the talk we engage in is typically small talk, certainly relative to the issues that I comment on and post about here.

Family, my dog, Substack, IRL legacy friends. I value all of them, but the way i listed them is an accurate order of importance.

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Same order here!

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Interesting term, David, "legacy friends" – I have those, too, but I'd still say my close friends fill the role of family in your list.

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I suppose I meant friends from earlier stages of life so a comment more about the length of the friendship and also that the basis of the friendship is based on that history vs. an activity.

I have tennis friends, some of whom are getting to be 5 years plus in length and a few of whom I consider very close friends. I have newer Substack friends, like you, where our friendship evolved and is evolving based on the activity of writing and commenting on Substack.

Such a fascinating subject.

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I think writing friends share a lot of themselves, so yes, I have a special category for them, too 😉 This *is* a fascinating subject, because everyone’s experience of friendship is so individual.

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Hi, Sarah, I'm all in on the Lesser-More mission! As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about, studying, and writing about friendship, I think you've brought up so many valid and important points! Ultimately, each of us wants to build a life that is meaningful and satisfying TO US, and that looks different for different people. We absolutely need to question our shoulds!

Not all friendships are up-lifting. Having more friends isn't necessarily better. Not everyone has to be a life-of-the-party extravert!

Friendship can also take many forms, ranging from more intimate to more casual, and focused on different activities or situations or phases of our lives. All of these can have value. Many friendships don't last forever.

Relationships take time and effort. And yet... Friends can make the good times more fun and the hard times easier to bear. They can be a life line, particularly when family support is lacking. It feels good to be known and valued.

Interestingly, research suggests that one reason older people tend to be happier is that they're pickier about who they spend their time with!

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I always love your perspective. And you're so right: "Friendship can also take many forms, ranging from more intimate to more casual, and focused on different activities or situations or phases of our lives. All of these can have value. Many friendships don't last forever."

And I love that older people are happier because they/we're picky!

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You bring a unique and important perspective to the table. I like it.

I was feeling like I had too many friends and inevitably when I shift closer to one friend group, the other friend group suffers. I don't have time for everyone!! But it truly aligns with the less and less. I'm making less plans, I'm not stressing over who I can't see. I'm (to quote my own writing) not immediately seeking out a tag team of "mom friends" just because I had a baby / society says when you're a mom you need to go do that. But I do very much value my longtime close girlfriends, and what they bring to my life.

Anyways, glad I subscribed this week. However it applies to one's life in a meaningful way, it's good to figure that out.

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That's cool--and welcome! I read a piece in Elle that talked about how women in their twenties and thirties particularly feel stressed by having too many friends. Maybe it's the mom-friend thing?

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Interesting and maybe!! I definitely want moms to worry less and less about it. ;)

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We have been doing "less is more" for a number of years, still at it and about to downsize one more time, having just sold our last house in AZ. Now, we do not own any property and as renters we have less maintenance and fewer costs. Nine years ago, I put the following piece up on my blog:

https://garygruber.com/less-is-more/ Maybe I should bring it forward to Substack?

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Do it!! And keep me posted!

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Thanks! I have a rather large backlog of archived posts, 12+ years and over 700. Regardless, I am part of your about to start writing group now, so, we'll stay in touch one way or another. I am contemplating revising, updating and editing a few that seem relevant to "topics at hand." Now there's an appealing phrase for a writer!

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Fantastic!

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So many choices, so little time. The possibility of # 2 a little scary. : )

"Fantastic"

1. informal: extraordinarily good or attractive.

"they did a fantastic job"

Similar: tremendous, remarkable, great, terrific, enormous, huge, striking, impressive, outstanding, phenomenal, monumental, overwhelming, marvelous

wonderful, sensational, magnificent, superb. superlative, excellent, very good

first-rate, first-class, dazzling, out of this world, breathtaking, fabulous

2.

imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality.

"fantastic hybrid creatures"

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I've been mostly a one bestie type person - if I have one person I can be all of myself with then I'm good. I was also a single mom for 20 years and needed some kind of adult companionship on that journey. Now my kids are grown and I have a husband and they fulfill this need quite well (our queer values have us doing marriage very differently than traditional and they are absolutely my best friend and vice versa - the "contract" is purely for health insurance for my disabled body).

When I did do more friendship in 3 different community figurations (a mama writers group, a spiritual group, and a sex positive event production group), they all ended horribly, and I don't want to spend my elder years repeating that drama and pain. A hermitted crone life with my person and my dog is just right for me and my overworked nervous system.

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I love this more than I can say: "A hermitted crone life with my person and my dog is just right for me and my overworked nervous system."

And that's a good point: I never had kids and failed to mention that in the piece. It might make a big difference in terms of how friends function for people during the raising-kids phase.

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I hear how friendship could be very important for many parents, and probably for a single parent especially. For me, likely because I am raising a child with a partner, it has been the opposite. I have an intense, core need for alone time, and would choose to spend the vast majority of my time by myself. Because I don’t have that opportunity in my current life stage, I cling to any shred of alone time I can get. The last thing I want to do is meet up with a friend during that time! (Thanks for this piece, Sarah — yours is quite literally the first voice I’ve heard questioning the ‘friendship crisis’ narrative, and I’m so glad I came across this!)

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Thank you for reading! I so hear that core need for alone time. I can't imaging how hard it is to get that with a child.

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April, thank you for mentioning a dog as a pet option. I'm sensing a bit of a pet bias here. I'm for pet equality.

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Total pet bias.

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Sometimes small deviations from the same general point of view are the source of the most bitter conflicts––Swift's satire about those who eat their eggs with the larger or smaller side on top.

With pets, however, I think we can find mutual agreement that both cat and dog people are wise and blessed to have pets. I'm reaching across the pet food aisle.

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Crossing over as well, particularly because I just spent the morning giving my sister's puppy belly rubs until my hand ached.

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This was so interesting for me Sarah. Friendship is a subject I have explored ad nauseam of late. It has definitely changed for me, with friends dropping like flies after things like my health issues, or moving to a new city. I used to have a couple of long-term friends (one from when I was 26 (I'm 72) and one for at least 35-40 years) and we used to communicate weekly even though we lived in other states. But both of them have quit that practice and I have felt rejected. I had an epiphany about why I have felt hurt and not understanding about things like how a friendship can run its course, etc.. I was in therapy weekly for six years when I was in my very early twenties (that's another story!). It caused me to become very comfortable with deep conversation. Then I joined a very close-knit church, and for many years it was also full of intimate sort of relationships. We knew a lot about each other. So...that became my understanding of a friendship. Now that I no longer attend therapy or church, I haven't been able to understand why other women don't seem to care about either deep conversations or getting together very often. I'm finally understanding all of what you said. And...I have become much more introverted anyway! I love my time alone and I also find my online relationships extremely valuable and interesting. I could be a cat lady!

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We'll have to get you a cat if you don't already have one. I hear you on feeling rejected. That sense of inadequacy still creeps up in me too, but yes, we don't have to feel it!

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Mar 23Liked by Sarah Fay

Interesting. I, also, started therapy by my choice in my late teens. I loved deep conversations - albeit one way and all about me - in counseling. It provided the being seen I hadn't experienced in my family. Then I became a therapist professionally. So I am well-versed in depth conversations although one-sided. I have concluded that some relationships are for a season or a reason in my life. We change, grow and outgrow and that is okay.

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Marylou...interesting...I also became a therapist after going through it myself and I still like to talk...lol. Yes...we change, grow, and outgrow. I was thinking (and feeling hurt) about my long-term friend seemingly changing about how important our friendship is and then I finally admitted to myself that I feel the same way! I realized how much we have changed and not in the same way. Funny what decades will do!

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Mar 23Liked by Sarah Fay

Less and less of more and more resonates with me. I am by nature an extrovert - sort of. Calendar always filled with social activities. I chose to change that and my more, more, more now feels eclipsed by less: friends, social engagements, meetups. I yearned for a simpler life and that morphed into slower living, aided by the covid hoax. When I unmasked and things opened up again I discovered I liked unmasked AND slower living. The social circles unmasked too but I opted not to rejoin them. No I am not depressed. After putting a toe into simpler, slower, Lee's and less living, I am plunging in.

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Love this! I love the term unmasked and how you use it. Taking that. People tend to describe living simply and enjoying one's company as "hiding." It's not! You've pointed out how it's a more open way of living--if I'm understanding correctly.

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Hi Sarah, I appreciate your investigation of friendship, and how you're offering the opposite perspective to the accepted mainstream belief that we *need* friends, and I'm enjoying your sense of humor about being a cat lady😂 but perhaps we also need to investigate the "connection" aspect of friendship. And how these days, Substack satisfies that connection aspect that perhaps writers and artists long for... and I'm amazed at the connections Substack is facilitating between writers and readers, in addition to the connections between writers and other writers all over the world. It's brilliant!

p.s. also interesting - the Buddha was reportedly asked by a senior monk, "Wouldn't you agree that friendship is at least half of the spiritual life?" To which he is reported to respond, "I would say that friendship is ALL of the spiritual life." A fun perspective to unpack and one that perhaps is in-line with the mainstream narrative about friendship. But like I say above, I appreciate the alternative perspectives on friendship that you're offering above too! It feels like it kind of takes the pressure off🥰

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I agree! It's amazing.

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and I'm curious about if the connections you experience on Substack may satisfy what you may otherwise look for in friendships? I'm thinking about this for myself too... and I definitely enjoy the deeper and more thoughtful written conversations that transpire on Substack too...

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Totally! I should write a post on the more of Substack.

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Mar 23·edited Apr 4Liked by Sarah Fay

Sarah, I love your perspective on friendship. I never thought about this subject when it come to "less and less." I have always felt that there's something wrong with me for not having a lot of friends. Well, moving countries several times in my adult life has certainly made that quite impossible. What I appreciate, though, are a few friends whom I consider close ones. Even though none of them live anywhere near me (and some are on the other side of the globe), our hearts are closely connected.

One of my former therapists pointed out how isolated I was and that I should make an effort to make friends. Well, for various reason, it has been super hard to do that in my community. It doesn't help that I work from home. But seriously, I feel rather content with my own company (it would be better with a cat, I admit, but my landlords don't allow it and I'm trying to negotiate with them).

My ex-partner, on the other hand, has a strong need for casual friends but didn't have any where we live. Frustrated that he couldn't make any friends here, he ventured out to another country where casual friends just landed on his laps, making him super happy and fulfilled. Unfortunately this difference between us tore us apart.

Well, that's a long-winded way of saying that I resonate with your sentiment that not everyone needs a lot of friends to feel happy, and friendship can take on many forms, feline ones included.

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This speaks so much to me: "Even though none of them live anywhere near me (and some are on the other side of the globe), our hearts are closely connected."

And I have to get you a cat.

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Mar 23Liked by Sarah Fay

Thank you, Sarah!

Yes, please send me a cat, pronto!!! :-D

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Mar 23Liked by Sarah Fay

In a meeting yesterday, a professional event planner said that she was seeing more #introverts turn out for big community gatherings. She speculated, “Perhaps #wfh isolation has helped them discover they really do need other people.” As an introvert I corrected her: “Maybe now that we don’t have to use up all of our tiny social bandwidth on chatting w coworkers in the break room, we actually have the energy to participate in events we’ve always wanted to enjoy.” #Extroverts really don’t understand us.

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Love it!

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Mar 24Liked by Sarah Fay

Carlene, I resonate with you so much! I have a secret dream that for once, the world's rules and norms are made by introverts.

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Sarah, I've been chatting to myself ever since I read your post earlier this morning. Thanks for sharing your thoughts which I'm sure many are connecting with.

You ask "What if we remove the pressure to have lots of friends?"

What if we just remove the pressure, period, take away all the supposed to's and should haves, and replace them with what feels good. Regardless of how many reports and scientific studies have been produced, the reality is that if people follow their own distinct true north, they likely will be happier and healthier than those who don't. In other words, if you like being alone, go for it. If you love animals, they can be enough. If being in nature satisfies your soul, that's where you need to be. If you love performing or making others laugh, then being in a gaggle of folks is heavenly.

Growing up an only child, I craved friends because I could play games with them and laugh, two activities I still enjoy. But on the flip side, as an only child I learned to enjoy and at times crave alone time. Neither choice is right or wrong, and in the big picture, it doesn't matter if I prefer one over the other.

What we need to do less of is comparing and judging. If we are doing what makes our heart hum, we're right where we belong.

Cheers to you and your kitties. 💜

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Amen. That's what this is all about.

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Mar 23·edited Mar 23Liked by Sarah Fay

Interesting perspective, and quite relatable.

I live abroad so I am very used to the vicissitudes of making friends 'for now'. I have a rich and varied social life, but no ‘close’ friends. In fact, I don’t know what that means. I have one or two friends that would certainly fit the canonical definition, people I trust, who I take care of and visa versa. People who tell me personal stuff and who caution me when they think I might be blundering in some way. But I know that all of this is ephemeral.

As for longterm friendships, I have just cracked the puzzle of why a friend I’ve had since childhood, (decades of friendship!) has stopped talking to me. She literally stopped responding in every way. I was worried she had developed a serious illness or alzheimers. This went on for three years. I kept leaving messages like “What’s going on with you? Why are you acting like this?” She eventually answered my questions with: “You intimidate me.” I was floored. I have always been supportive of her, and our relationship has always been a kind of emotional bedrock, like part of my identity. We always signed off with ‘Love you’. Until the flow of communication just stopped.

And it really confirmed what I have always thought of all friendships, regardless of the depth they may reach: nothing says they will and must last.

As for my friend, I will tell her in the gentlest way to stop comparing her life to mine. What more can I do?

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Wow. So fascinating. You're so wise. I love this: "And it really confirmed what I have always thought of all friendships, regardless of the depth they may reach: nothing says they will and must last."

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I wonder, Sarah, if you saw this. I tried to talk about suicide from the perspective of a caregiver or friend, and although these are my personal reactions to a tough situation, you may have more insight into the topic than I. https://open.substack.com/pub/camilahamel/p/the-straight-line?r=1tfs3w&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

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I let go of a 40 year friendship almost a year ago. I never had a lot of friends but I had a few very close friends I would love to get together with to have those deeper conversations with. I find I am lifted by meeting up with a friend. Whether IRL or virtually. But I can count on one hand my friends. It’s always been this way. I am finding my virtual circle of friends is expanding because of Substack. This is new for me. To feel I have ‘a lot’ of friends, but it doesn’t feel cumbersome. I enjoy connecting with my peeps on Substack. And I notice when I haven’t seen or heard from them in awhile! 😉

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Me too! Flush with friends. But friendship evangelists would dismiss these friendships. Kills me.

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What I would like to know is, how did they define “close friend” in that Pew research poll? I don’t know if I have any - I don’t think I do, with the exception of my husband, who you say doesn’t count. But I have friends with whom I have been close in the past, they just live thousands of miles away and we don’t really talk very often. Are they still close friends? Or do they have to live nearby? Do you have to actually see them or talk on the phone? Because I really don’t do that with anyone. I guess I’m in the 8%, huh.

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Wow. I just looked it up and there's no definition. Fascinating because then we're all defining it differently. My "close friend" is someone I talk to once a month, haven't seen in nearly a decade, and who lives in Nebraska. https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/SR_23.10.12_friendship_topline.pdf

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I would go with how Shasta Nelson describes them. Those long-time ago friends have a particular place in the friendship spectrum: usually our closest friends are people we see often, but some of our long time ago friends are still close if we reopen the relationship. I’m now talking at least an hour every couple weeks with someone who was a colleague 30 years ago, who recently reached out and reconnected with me. We’re still long-distance, but we feel able to talk about pretty deep stuff.

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I love this, Sarah I really have never thought about it this way. I’m wondering do you know anything about the Enneagram? I can’t remember if we talked about this, but in addition to the types there are subtypes and one of the subs types is a Social, which is what I am and they are the people who wanna have a lot of friends and be connected to a lot of ppl, but the other types aren’t necessarily like this, especially the self preservation type. I have a good friend who is a self preservation type, and she only has a few close friends and she’s fine with that and truthfully, probably would be fine with none whereas I could not be happy that way. What I like about this is it allows for different kinds of people without pathologizing it.

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I thought of you while writing this. I loved your America piece and how you talk about friendship.

That's what we need: those who may not need friends to be just another type of person equal to those who love having lots of friends. I am a teeny bit familiar with the Enneagram (I think I'm a 5) and can definitely see the self-preservation piece applying to me.

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it would make sense for you to be a 5--the investigator. They guard their alone time jealously. You are probably a Self Preservation 5: https://enneagramprofiling.com/subtypes-five

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Oh, my gosh! That's exactly how I feel: jealously guarding my alone time.

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And thank you for the link. I was going to ask you for a resource.

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What concerns me is not the absence of friends, although that is something I value, but the absence of caring community. Especially for those of us without children, and even for some of you with them, we need people we can call on when times get tough. I've been struck recently by how various groups that have nothing to do with traditionally defined caring communities (such as faith communities), have developed caring circles so that members have someone to call when they need help. One is a book group made up of people who share an exercise class, and the other is a political action group of women. Both have developed systems to help members in times of need. I love that!

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Ooh, I love that too. I'm without children. (I write this as I sit across the table from my 82 year old mother who needs 24/7 care.)

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Blessings on you for your care of your mother. She lucky to have you.

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I love that groups like book clubs and exercise classes are developing in that direction. I've found the same thing with dog park friends and women from a professional group I joined in my twenties.

But - it worries me deeply that it depends on the serendipity of finding the right group or great effort in getting involved. I know of two local people who have long term health conditions and feel very isolated - they are not up to trying things on or getting deeply involved in anything that might develop into care circles. Somehow, we need to include them. Faith communities are great, but even my own hasn't figured out how to serve these people very well.

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I think you’re so right about that! As a society, we’re not very good at caring for each other. We have some work to do, but I’m encouraged at these small rays of hope.

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