Let’s Talk 2023: Opinion Writers Respond to Your Comments

Each week, readers submit thousands of comments on Opinion pieces. The word “appreciation” doesn’t begin to cover how our staff feels about them. Comments can challenge, gratify, inspire and anger us — sometimes all at once. They make us strive to do better.

We recently reviewed some of the most engaging comment sections we’ve experienced this year (so far!) and decided we had to pay tribute. So we asked the authors of some of the relevant pieces to respond to what readers had to say. We hope you enjoy looking back at these conversations as much as we did.

With readers’ permission, their comments have been lightly edited for clarity and length. — Rachel L. Harris and Lisa Tarchak, staff editors

“We Know the Cure for Loneliness. So Why Do We Suffer?” by Nicholas Kristof, columnist

I obviously don’t know the future, but I have to say that all the stories I’ve read about people who talk to A.I. bots because they are lonely have been utterly dystopian. It’s like looking in the mirror and pretending that you’ve found good company. Technology is largely responsible for dissolving social bonds and pushing people to self select into more and more niche groups, which then migrate online. I do not have high hopes for solutions if they don’t also involve some kind of significant shift in people’s relationship to social media. — Hans Decker, Oberglatt, Switzerland

Nicholas Kristof: So many of the people who commented on my loneliness column reached out because they were lonely and didn’t quite understand how that had happened. I think there are a few answers to that puzzle. First, workplaces historically were often more social — albeit less efficient — than they are today. If you work at a call center or on an assembly line today, your speed is constantly measured, and even your bathroom breaks are doled out. You’re also less likely to be in a union, which was an opportunity for socialization.

Second, community organizations have withered. Historically, many were religious, and they have declined with the general secularization of the country, while bridge clubs and women’s groups and bowling societies have also waned. Meanwhile, smartphones and social platforms haven’t filled the gap but have left people feeling inadequate and more lonely than ever.

Third, family structure has changed so that people are far more likely to live alone — 28 percent of American households consist of a single person living alone, so many people are physically as well as emotionally isolated. The fact that the column struck such a chord with readers underscored the point I was trying to make: that loneliness is a serious problem and that other countries are beginning to tackle it in ways that the U.S. should learn from.

“The Abortion Ban Backlash Is Starting to Freak Out Republicans” by Michelle Goldberg, columnist

I never considered myself a single-issue voter before. I do now. I will not, under any circumstances, vote for a candidate who does not support a woman’s right to choose. The Republican Party has relied on this mentality for years, with the Christian right voting for candidates purely on their anti-choice stances (e.g., Donald Trump). Now they can see what happens when the other side uses the same tactics. — Erin Wagner, April 7, Manhattan, N.Y.

Michelle Goldberg: The months since this column came out have shown that there are a lot of voters out there who agree with Erin. Abortion has become the single most important issue motivating people to vote for Democrats, and, in the case of various referendums, to vote, period. The Democratic strategist Tom Bonier found that more women under 50 voted in this year’s Ohio election, where a ballot measure made abortion a constitutional right, than voted in the state’s 2022 midterms. Republicans have proven completely unable or unwilling to respond to this voter backlash, even though some in the party understand it’s hurting them. Just look at Texas, where the right-wing attorney general fought tooth and nail to deny an abortion to a mother whose fetus had a lethal genetic anomaly and who’d been in and out of the emergency room.

“Coming Out Late — and Finding a New Life in Midlife” by Charles M. Blow, columnist

Until I read this article, I thought that if my late husband had told me the truth about himself — that he felt he was a woman — I would have ended my marriage. He had never come out in any way, except for occasional mild confessions. At 76, it brought him to suicide. This article gave me permission to realize that although I am 99 percent sure I’m not a lesbian, and although we might have parted for a time, I think I would have adjusted. He was too wonderful a person to live without. But he ended his life without daring to put our marriage in jeopardy. May he rest in peace. — Ann Evans, June 25, Rutland, Vt.

Charles M. Blow: My awe at the power of love and the irrepressible fluidity of human attraction was only deepened and validated by my reporting this column and by the reaction to it. While, for many people, attraction may be absolute and binary, for others it moves and morphs, the heart is open to possibility and closed to limitation. For people like that — people like me — the architecture of the body and conception of the gender are subordinate to the beauty of the spirit. We are attracted to the person, the deepest, truest, realest, rawest part of them. Love has a way, always, of sorting out the rest.

“The Largest and Fastest Religious Shift in America Is Well Underway” by Jessica Grose, Opinion writer

I hope I do not fall in the “dechurched” category. I still identify myself as Catholic. At their best, our churches provide comfort and community while asking that we ask difficult questions about who we are and how we live and what is right. For Christian churches, it means preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, which means welcoming those who doubt. But too many churches see the reason for their existence as enforcing an orthodoxy that protects and enhances their authority. In recent years, I have quietly walked out of two different churches after the homily because the sermon was so overtly political.

There is still a place in our society for church and religion, but it has to be humble; it has to be kind; it has to provide guidance on the path to wisdom and faith; it has to be open to hard questions; and it can never be silent to evil on the pretense that speaking up may damage an institution. — Richard Petre, June 22, Mandeville, La.

Jessica Grose:I have been so moved by all of the stories in the comments on my series about Americans moving away from religion. They taught me so much about different denominations, and the profound feelings of grief so many people have when they feel that their faith has let them down. I have also appreciated hearing from people who have become more religious or spiritual over the years, as well as from people who have left religion behind and feel their lives are better for it. There is not always space in our day-to-day lives to talk about our core beliefs and how they shape who we are, and I feel lucky to have created at least a small home for this discussion.

“In Alabama, White Tide Rushes On” by Tressie McMillan Cottom, columnist

I grew up in Mississippi and decided to leave after high school precisely because it seemed most of my classmates were interested in joining some version of the Greek system described here. Unfortunately the same networks exist everywhere. This morning, at the first day of school drop-off, I was cringing at some East Coasters who brought their elite status with them when they moved out West. It is very stuffy, intentionally exclusive and annoying. But it clearly has bought their family entry into California’s version of the moneyed elite, white crowd here. Racism and power are, in my experience, universal in this country. — Adam Smith, Aug. 22, San Francisco

Tressie McMillan Cottom: Readers rightly pointed out that collegiate social clubs are corollaries for power hoarding. They are not unique to the South. The University of Alabama just happens to be a southern institution. A similar story can be written about Ivy League supper clubs. In fact, much more has been written about the social clubs at Ivy League institutions than those at the nation’s regional universities. Just as much more serious analysis of power has been done of fraternities than has been done of sororities. That is part of what made the Bama Rush phenomenon interesting for me to write about. It is rewarding that so many readers agreed.

“The Worst Scandal in American Higher Education Isn’t in the Ivy League” by David French, columnist

It seems like there’s a conflict in Christianity between believers who think, “I am a Christian, so I have a duty to lead a good and noble life” and those who think, “I am a Christian, therefore I am a good and noble person” regardless of how they behave. The second group seems to be winning, at least in the U.S. — Charles Shipman, Oct. 22, Manchester, N.H.

David French: This is an excellent insight, and it applies both inside and outside the church. The impulse to locate your virtue in your beliefs and not your actions is helping tear this nation apart. It grants a permission structure to be vicious to those who disagree because their disagreement is all the proof you need that they’re a terrible person.

I certainly know there are beliefs that are so terrible that merely holding them is a profound moral wrong, but our default approach should be to grant our opponents the benefit of the doubt, believe they reach their opinions in good faith and treat them with dignity and respect.

Christians should be leading this effort. After all, our faith teaches us that we’re to love our enemies, and that we’re to pursue justice with mercy and humility. But those virtues are in short supply in the MAGA Christian right.

“The Rich Are Crazier Than You and Me,” by Paul Krugman, columnist

What you say of Henry Ford was, I believe, also true of Andrew Carnegie. He was so convinced that his genius for making money was general genius, applicable to other social and political matters, that the failure of political society to listen to him was a great frustration. So he consoled himself by becoming a great lord in a castle. — David Mehegan, July 6, Hingham, Mass.

Paul Krugman: Rereading the comments on the article just six months later, what strikes me is how much crazier things have become. Notably, Elon Musk has gone from giving a platform to cranks like R.F.K. Jr. to welcoming Alex Jones, the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist, back to X.

We shouldn’t idealize the tycoons of past eras. I mentioned Henry Ford’s antisemitic conspiracy views in the article. But the tech bros do seem crazier than their forebears. Some of that is probably that unlike old-style plutocrats who spent decades building their empires, they got superrich incredibly fast, and never needed to grow up. But I do wonder about our culture, too. We used to idealize strong, silent types; now we build cults of personality around self-aggrandizing whiners. How did that happen?

“You Shouldn’t Have to Take Care of Your Aging Parents on Your Own” by Michelle Cottle, domestic correspondent for Opinion

When we were in our mid-40s, my wife suffered a massive stroke that left her totally and permanently impaired, physically and cognitively. She requires assistance in all functions. I have been her sole caregiver in our home the past 21 years and took her to adult day care before I retired early at 60 when day care was no longer sustainable. We live mostly on our Social Security. I’m a Vietnam-era veteran, but the V.A. won’t help as it’s not the veteran who needs care. State waiver programs are backed up and hopelessly inadequate. I’m 71 now and, unfortunately, have more than a clue about what happens to my wife when I inevitably break down to the point where I can no longer care for her. — Dennis Smith, Sept. 6, Des Moines

Michelle Cottle: I cannot tell you how many similar emails and comments I received on this issue from people struggling to care for aging loved ones. Singly, the messages break my heart. Taken together, they frustrate me. America is poorly prepared, at the individual and the systemic level, for the changes and challenges that a graying society brings. Our communities are not structured to accommodate this demographic earthquake. Our social safety net is not built for the growing and shifting demands. More and more families are facing this increasingly unsustainable burden on their own.

Caregiving can be overwhelming and profoundly isolating. And precisely because it is so often a labor of love, many people think of it as a purely personal responsibility rather than a matter of public policy. But the costs of our failure to address this issue as a society are borne by everyone. Caregiving is just one piece of the aging challenge, but it is one that policymakers, and the rest of us, need to get serious about. Fast.

“Why Saving Kids Is Bad Business in America” by Alex Stockton and Lucy King, video producers

We don’t have contempt for children; we have contempt for the parents of poor and lower-class children. The ruling class doesn’t worry about any of these things as their children are wrapped safely in their wealth. — Tammy Rozhon, Jan. 4, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Alex Stockton: Tammy’s comment reminds me of a family of limited means I met while reporting from Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital last December. Most hospital rooms are sparse and sterile. This one though was decorated from floor to ceiling with family photos and Christmas decorations. On a small bed, attached to lots of tubes, was 4-year-old Talia Rudolf. She had a rare autoimmune disease that gave her repeated seizures. She’d been in the hospital for about 100 days.

Her parents stayed with her just about around the clock. They worried about Talia, her 8-year-old sister at home and their finances. Even though their entire lives had shrunk to the size of a tiny hospital room, they could barely afford to keep going.

Tammy’s right. It seems utterly cruel that finances would be on their mind at a time like that. When your kid gets sick, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether you can afford to get them the health care they need.

“I Am Mourning the Loss of Something I Loved: McNuggets” by Adrian Rivera, editorial assistant

It’s about social class, that forbidden phrase in America, where we are all supposedly equal. The usual signifiers of class — our houses (or lack of), our vehicles, our clothing and accessories — now include our food. Here’s what the professionals don’t get: Real food costs more. Sometimes much more. Not only in actual dollars, but in time and effort. Imagine working a minimum-wage job, standing on your feet for many hours, then coming back home and needing to prepare a meal while already exhausted. Add a spouse and a couple of tired, cranky, hungry children to the equation. What would you do? — Phyliss Galbraith, Feb. 28, Homosassa, Fla.

Adrian Rivera: The night before my essay ran, I made a commitment not to read the comments that might come in the next day. For all the standards upheld by the comment moderation team, I worried that people would still find a way to call me fat, whiny or poor (or fat, whiny and poor).

Sometime during the day of publication, one of the moderators was kind enough to send me several that were, even for this fan of artificial syrups, too sweet. I couldn’t believe people’s kindness and encouragement. I appreciated the many people who raised questions about a meal’s cost in terms of money, time and energy — questions I think about every day as my relationship to food continues to evolve. I was most gratified to hear from people who’d had similar experiences of loss accompanying upward social mobility. It made me feel less alone.

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