Throughout my adult life I have always feared one specific downfall of our country; social decline
The attacks of September 11th, 2001 were horrific and changed the lives of millions of Americans. We became more vigilant in spotting potential threats. We showed our military personnel a little more respect, and love. We drafted new laws and regulations to ensure that an event like this would never happen again.
We also started watching each other. We stopped trusting the way we did before. We started racially profiling anyone and everyone that we didn’t personally know, and some that we had known for years. We turned our attention away from the outside world and focused it within, on each other. Politicians seized this opportunity and brokered powerful positions in government based on these feelings of hate, fear and distrust. Our country has been inching backward away from the global issues we used to lead on, and instead has tuned in like a laser on issues that shouldn’t even matter.
The American people in turn have become what amounts to an angry mob, shouting down opponents of their beliefs and attacking other Americans in any forum, in any medium, without the slightest thought that they may be held accountable for what they say or type. Sadly, many of the people doing this relish the idea of being the attacker.
Seeing this I realize that my worst fears are coming true. America has lost it’s sense of community.
As America rose from the ashes of the Revolutionary War its citizens held great pride in their ability to dispel the English from these lands. During World War I and World War II people from all over this nation came together to ensure our troops had all of the materials they needed to fight the battles and turn the Axis Powers away from the lands they had occupied. During the Vietnam War many Americans stood together to protest what they felt was an illegal war in order to bring our troops home and in every war since this country has stood behind its soldiers without fail.
America was able to do this because even though we had our disagreements and our conflicting beliefs we were Americans first and everything else second. During all of these conflicts there have been people of many races, political affiliations and financial statuses fighting together, sometimes side by side, to accomplish a common goal. Back at home there was much of the same. Factory workers that belonged to different political parties continued hammering the same steel, building the same tanks, canning the same fruits and vegetables together. They put aside their petty squabbles because this country was facing a great threat, just as it is now.
Unfortunately it seems that those days have ended. Political disagreements and agendas are now taking center ring instead of the issues that should be negotiated. Instead of compromise and working to ensure the good of the nation our political leaders are choosing to stand their ground based on ideology and pledges. It no longer matters what the constituents have asked for, or even demanded. All that matters is grand standing and blame. Our two party political system has broken, and the force of that break has further demolished our one remaining solace; community.
Community is the LIGHT that has allowed this nation to rise from nothing to the most powerful, a beacon to all those around the world that demand better, and more for themselves and their families. Community is the STRENGTH that has built churches, houses and schools across this great nation and provided men and women of great character for our Armed Forces. Community is the TOLERANCE that has allowed people of many faiths to worship as they choose and to be free of persecution. Community is the ASSISTANCE that reaches out to those less fortunate or those that are having difficulty and doesn’t worry about attaching strings or getting payback. Community is the FAIRNESS that says we are all equal and we are all in this together no matter our financial contributions because our nation is built of blood and sacrifice, not dollars and cents. Community is COMPROMISE in all things because we as a people have different needs, different beliefs and different abilities even though we are all of the same nation. Community is the TRUST that your fellow Americans and your political leaders are working to create a better, stronger nation for everyone, not just line their pockets with money. Community is the BOND that we form with each other as Americans, a bond that should not be forgotten based on our financial status, political affiliation, race, gender or religious beliefs.
We have lost these core values as a nation. Watch any news broadcast and you will see murder, theft, greed, hate, fear and distrust. When a New York City cop stopped to buy boots for a shoeless man on the street the video went viral, but the vast majority of articles since then have been about the homeless man not wearing the boots anymore, not being homeless or using his appearance to generate revenue. Why does it matter if this man is not what he appears? If the police officer that purchased the boots is not angry, why should anyone else be offended? An act of kindness is not eradicated because the recipient is deemed unworthy.
This loss of community is also evident in the way we communicate with each other. Through the ironically named “social” media sites Americans have become anti-social, hateful and caustic people. Racial comments abound and again, with no sense of accountability, people are saying anything they want regardless of how it affects the people reading or hearing it. The stark lines of contrast between rich and poor, black and white, men and women are coming back into focus after being blurred for years by a desire to treat people humanely. All of these things are being seen as funny, tolerable or even normal by a larger part of the population.
So perhaps this is the end. Perhaps the prophecies of the end of the world as we know it were referring to a general loss of our humanity and our community. Humans are social beings by nature, but we are forgetting the point of being social in the first place. Why belong to a “nation” when everyone is concerned only with themselves? Is this the United States of America or the “Nation of Me”?
The obvious question that faces this nation: “How do we return to the days of community?”
The first step is changing the language and the tone used when speaking about the very values this country was founded upon. Our forefathers did NOT found a capitalist nation intent on maximizing profit at the expense of the people. They did NOT fight battles against the most powerful nation on the planet so that we could become a nation of hate and anger. Our forefathers did NOT craft some of the most amazing documents in the history of the world in order to hamstring future politicians and force them to follow a given platform with no room for compromise.
This country was founded and built by men facing the issues of the 1770′s. These men were facing the British Empire, the French Monarchy, battles with Indians and expansion into a land mass of which they had very little knowledge. These men were slave owners, farmers and aristocrats. These men had just finished a war in which they were faced with massive issues of provisioning an army to fight for their independence, while also trying to pay as little tax as was possible to the very nation provisioning them. If you read the history of this nation you will see clearly the founding years were full of missteps, errors and bad decisions that all had an affect on the building of our nation.
Luckily, there was a great sense of community to fall back on when trouble came knocking. This community spirit viewed the documents not on their literal meaning, but the spirit of their meaning. They understood that over time changes would be needed to mold these documents to have the impact of the greatest good for the times and that these living documents were meant to grow and adapt, just as the nation would grow and adapt.
So instead of arguing about what our forefathers would do, we need to do what they intended us to do which is adapt and carry on. Instead of rhetoric and fear mongering, or anti-patriotic dribble about shredding our historical documents we need to do what we have done in the past, adapt and carry on. Instead of stone-walling and brinksmanship that is hurting American families unnecessarily, we need to do what our future generations will be asked to do, adapt and carry on.
We need to reintroduce the concept of accountability in government, but also amongst citizens. How are we to demand that our politicians do the right thing when we ourselves don’t? How can we get angry when someone says something we don’t like and then attack them only to hide behind Freedom of Speech when we are called to answer for our comments? How do we claim all people are created equally and then treat others as if they are less than us? This hypocrisy seems to know no bounds in today’s America.
The only answer to many of these issues is to start from the beginning. We must return to our roots, our foundation as a nation. We must strive to bring back the sense of community that has been lost over the past few decades. We need to put down our cell phones and log off of our social media sites and visit with our friends, family and neighbors. This culture we have developed was not created overnight, and will not be corrected quickly. We can start with just a few small steps.
Spend time with your family, speak to them and hear them. Play a game together without a cell phone, or game controller.
Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Invite them over for a meal.
Become active in your community. Volunteer for a local community service or join a civic organization.
Choose your words carefully, often our tone or choice of words can invite anger or disagreement.
Practice small acts of kindness without expecting a reward or questioning motive. Give up a dollar to someone that is needy, without agonizing over whether or not they are being truthful.
Agree to disagree in a civil way instead of arguing every point to death.
Refuse the temptation to lash out at others with differing points of view. Instead, choose to respect their right to their own opinion.
Do not confuse Freedom of Speech with the ability to verbally attack someone.
These are just a few of the ways that we can reintroduce civility and community back into this nation. I know that many people will come up with more ways of doing this, and I welcome them. I myself am trying to find ways to live according to these tenets and find that sometimes it is difficult to find the time.
All we can do is try, and in doing so we can improve this nation a little bit at a time.