Over the past decade, nothing has defined us more than the cult of individualism. From the little to the large, it infects every aspect of our lives. Headphones cancel out the person next to us on our commute, many neighbours barely know each other's names, and screen time has replaced connection within our shared beds and family homes.
People have virtually cocooned, choosing the easier alternative to complex human relations. And yet we all knew there was something missing. Something we couldn't quite place. So what beautiful irony that it took a worldwide lockdown to awaken our deep need for connection and community.
In recent weeks, in towns and villages across Ireland, a fairytale response is unfolding, almost too twee to believe if we had seen it in a Hollywood movie. People are coming together to lift each other's spirits, neighbours are leaving tokens of love at each other's door. This weekend's newspaper could be filled with stories if every small act of kindness was put into print.
The children who left their books in cardboard boxes on Sandymount strand simply marked ''for the bored''; in Halliday Square in Stoneybatter, two residents brought their violin and cello to the neighbourhood's green to comfort quarantined residents in their windows; and in Cork a 10-year-old boy called Rian, who has a respiratory illness, had a birthday surprise when the local garda cars and a fire truck gave him a blue siren parade from his front porch. Even the garda dog joined in.
There have also been stories of neighbours bartering items in their presses, such as flower seeds in exchange for tomatoes, and leaving them in parcels at each other's door.
In his famous study, US sociologist Eric Klinenberg showed the importance of community in surviving a crisis. He compared deaths in two Chicago neighbourhoods during a deadly 1995 heatwave and found six times more people died in the neighbourhood where regular checks were not made to the vulnerable.
As the death toll mounts, we will never know how many lives have been saved by communities offering to do shop runs for the elderly, many of whom are now less likely to take a risk.
Phil Lenehan and her husband PJ live outside Ballinasloe. Part of the ''cocooning group'', their neighbourhood proved that the world really is a small place when the local corner-shop owner promised Phil's daughter in Australia that he would look after her mother.
"Everyone has been exceptional," says Phil. "We've been getting texts saying 'it doesn't matter how small, what can I get?'" Chops, cabbage and turnip have been dropped to the house.
Neighbours leave the daily newspaper and the local shop owner places a batch of bread on their doorstep. Their children, dotted around the world, know the community has come together to care for their mum and dad.
Now Phil says she can spend her time on more worthwhile matters: "I walk in the back garden and listen to Pavarotti sing. We can feel at ease, when we know there is so much support out there."
There is playfulness, too. In Dublin's North Strand early one morning, Paula Nolan noticed a bright placard in the window of a nearby home. The children inside began posting a daily ''joke in the window'' to cheer up the neighbourhood. It has become an antidote to fear, cushioning their small enclave from the panic that has gripped the world.
"They make people laugh as they pass by," says Paula, "Mae, she's 82, she wanders across the road to read the jokes. It has united the community because we're all laughing at the same thing."
In Walkinstown, residents have placed teddies in their windows to keep children entertained on their daily walks.
Sarah Fleury says: "People have put out vintage bears that they had as children. One house went all out and put on an Australian-themed teddy bear display - with kangaroos and koalas and sunscreen."
Originally inspired abroad by the children's book We're Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen, the trend has caught on in homes all over the world. The book's motto - "We're not scared" - holds true today.
"Many kids who we mightn't have known before are coming up to the window and waving in," says Sarah. "People are coming together and it's bringing a smile."
Pablo Casals once said that "music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart" and 71-year-old Gerry Dempsey is giving a simple message to his community.
Living in a small cul-de-sac in Rathfarnham, he had been taking online lessons in the guitar when he felt he could put his talents to good use: "I set up a little amp in the back of my car and sung a song that I thought was appropriate."
People came out of their front doors as Bob Marley's words, ''every little thing is gonna be alright'', rang out under the street lights.
No doubt Gerry speaks for many around the country when he says: "A little bit of the meitheal that I knew as a young lad is finally back."