Why Don’t We Feel Safe?

The erosion of community and trust

Posted Sep 12, 2015

Americans are becoming increasingly anxious. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million of us every year, nearly 20% of the population. Psychologist Jean Twenge (2000) has found a dramatic rise in anxiety and neuroticism in the past few decades, strongly correlated with the decline in social connectedness.

Signs point to a serious breakdown in community. Robert Putnam noted a dramatic drop in civic participation as more and more Americans have substituted television for human contact. Putnam wrote in 2000 about families huddled around television sets instead of interacting with their neighbors, becoming separate islands in what used to be a neighborhood. Now, even when families are home together, many of them interact with their own electronic devices, isolated individuals, engrossed their own virtual worlds.

Chat rooms, text messages, Facebook friends—some might say electronics have expanded our sense of community. But psychiatrist Edward Hallowell believes far otherwise, writing about the alienating effect of electronic communication that leaves people feeling distant, misunderstood, and disrespected (1999). Electronic communication, he says, lacks the vital “human moment” that builds trust with personal connection.

Diane Dreher
Source: Diane Dreher

Our communities are losing that personal connection. Local towns used to be places where people exchanged goods and services, building relationships with an enduring bond of trust. We actually knew the people in the grocery store or delicatessen and they knew us by name. Now more people substitute convenience for community, shopping for commodities online with no human contact. We can now order almost anything without leaving home, without even getting up from our chairs. Delivery trucks circulate around my neighborhood, dropping off groceries, clothing, electronics, all ordered online. Because many people order books online or download electronic copies, local bookstores have become an endangered species. Yet I still prefer going to the Village House of Books, the friendly independent bookstore in my town where the owners, Cheryl and Steve, cultivate community with readings, children’s events, and a warm welcome whenever my dog Ginny and I stop by.

What’s the difference? Community—that indescribable, irreplaceable human contact without which we cannot thrive as human beings (Cohen, 2004). Without community we are isolated individuals, alone and adrift in a world we cannot trust.

Where do you find your community? And what can you do to cultivate greater trust in the world around you?


Anxiety disorders statistics from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml

Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59, 676-684.

Hallowell, E. M. (1999, January-February). The human moment at work. Harvard Business Review, 59-66.

Putnam, Robert. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Twenge, J. M. (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952-1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 1007-1021.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Visit her web site at www.dianedreher.com