Forum: Confronting our loneliness to build a Common Good

Familiar themes in a 32-year-old article provoke thoughts about how we can cultivate relationships.

Kathy Solberg. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Kathy Solberg. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

By Kathy Solberg / Herald Forum

I recently read an article from 1991 from an organization seeking to expand the number of people committed to organizing with integrity around community, world and work.

They wrote of addressing ways to support work organizations to engage the whole person, increase efficiencies and work collaboratively. It was written to leaders to address with accountability and adaptiveness the need to change the language and environments and address systems with layers of complexity so they could come together for the greater good. I was about eight paragraphs in when tears streamed down my face.

This could have been written today. Had nothing changed?

I often say that if systems change was easy, someone would have done it by now. Leaders have trouble grasping incremental change as the path to impact. So many want it now. It is difficult to look at cuts in education, health care, nonprofits and businesses. Some changes are due to the inability to secure staff, some due to the lack of funds to support those employees even if they could be hired.

The need is so present. The system’s collapse is quite evident. The struggle to even define amidst hybrid environments, physical working needs and virtual work is palpable and uncomfortable in most workplace settings. There is a need for those in-person jobs and service roles that bring us all safety, technology, food and most of the things we credit to quality of life. Those who have been able to work remotely many times feel entitled to do so these days. Hybrid work is messy on a good day in many environments.

I have held off writing an article because I thought that I could hear the eyes roll if once again I spoke of our outdated maps and our need to look back to move forward. Wondering, what can I address that is not about systems, maps or community? I had many an idea, but this issue sits at the forefront of my mind every day.

Then the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services came out with the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2023 report entitled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” Pandemic. Epidemic. One seems a bit more controllable than the other.

My life’s work is community. My company is called CommonUnity: Creating Unity for the Common Good. One would think I could be wildly wealthy with the recent report and the great percentage of all of us noticing that things are not working quite as well as we may have anticipated in our post pandemic world. In many cases, things are barely working at all.

The truth is I am far from wildly wealthy and I struggle to have individuals, companies, organizations and governments be able to look up to see that perhaps what they are doing is not working. And for those who are moving forward, and have phenomenal best practices to share, they also suffer from this great sense of busyness. People are overwhelmed. With staffing challenges, retention problems and limited capacity, it is difficult to put one foot in front of the other. To lift up our heads and look past the blinders to share success or ask for help is hard.. It has become difficult to come together and share what is working and equally challenging to admit that we have never been here before and are not quite sure what the next steps look like.

Social connections need care like our gardens. Nurturing those relationships not only fosters healthier individuals but more prosperous and healthy communities. It decreased the risk of developing and worsening anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, diabetes, depression; the list is LONG.

Lack of connection to others is listed on the top social indicators for healthy communities everywhere from the Providence Institutes’s local report to the research and books about the health of the “blue zones” in our world.

I talk about Interconnectedness as a way of life in my TEDx talk. We are all biologically wired to be connected. This is a scientific foundation that created our true need to have social connection and be with others for optimal mental and physical well being.

I grasp at our seeming lack of understanding and wonder how people cannot realize their interconnectedness yet it is so inherent for nature?

And yes, covid and the pandemic acted as a catalyst for this already spiraling sense of individualism, and many thought that perhaps technology could fill the void. Millions of people were siloed with their cell phones and cut off from the people and places that defined them. And now, we have the chance to learn and do things differently with that knowledge.

A research paper was just published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry in April of this year. It is titled “Mattering, Wellness and Fairness: Psychosocial Goods for the Common Good.” I have been doing some presentations to workplaces about creating a culture of mattering and belonging. It was a timely affirmation that how we connect affects our health, how we treat one another affects our physical and mental well being. All of this is paramount to minimizing social outcomes that are prevalent today from homelessness, suicide and addiction; just to name a few.

This has a foundation in the work of Josiah Royce, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hahn in naming and living the work needed to support the creation of Beloved Community. The value of being seen, heard and loved.

Whoa, Kathy, this is not the usual optimistic article you write with sunshine and hugs. It is not. And, this is not 1991; 32 years have passed. I am sure I could read Marcus Aurelius and marvel at how in 1850 years, little has changed if I wanted to make a point to myself. People tend to associate change with loss. They are afraid of losing something. Let’s name that fear and chart out our future post pandemic to work together to implement incremental steps in the direction of the place we want to be part of.

Can we focus on what we share and have in common? I know from lots of facilitating that within every group is a common ground. Therefore, a common good. I know that when we set all of our differences aside, we want healthy communities, families and lives. We all want to be seen, heard and loved. That foundation of our hierarchy of needs; no matter your race, age or political affiliation.

I am writing with the intention of asking you: What do you need? What is working for you? What do you want to share that others could benefit from knowing? Or if you happened to watch the show “New Amsterdam”, to use Max Goodwin’s mantra – “How can I help?” When we work to see the humanity in each other, what can we do? I want you to know that I hear you. I see you and what you say and who you are matters.

Now what? Please send me your thoughts. Use the subject line, “For the Common Good.” My email address is

I am deeply curious to hear what you see, hear and think. I want to know what you see that supports the Common Good of our region.

Kathy Solberg leads a consulting business, CommonUnity. Learn more at

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