I believe we as a country and culture are lost and can be found. We have strayed from the vision that made America great: the vision that all people are free and equal, with a free uncontrolled public media that provides oversight on the government and a free, equal and competent public education system Instead of that, what does America stand for in the world today? We are despoilers of the earths, we are consumers and wasters, we are global bullies. America has come to stand for secret prisons, Abu Graib, and atrocities. And yet I do NOT believe this is who we the American people are. American people are some of the most caring and generous in the world, with the highest percentage of people doing volunteer work (more than half) and the highest percentage of income donated to charity. Not only were billions of dollars donated for Hurricane Katrina rescue, but thousands of ordinary Americans opened their hearts and homes to take in refugees. Somehow, the country is going in a different direction than the generous impulses of its people would take it.
I believe this sense of being lost and going in the wrong direction is becoming reflected in American lives, which are increasingly hollow – very busy on the surface, but with no center. This is reflected in our homes which get bigger and bigger while less and less time is spent there. The majority of the time at home is spent in front of the TV, which also gets bigger and bigger, but has less of meaning or education.
YET I believe there is an answer to all of the ills besetting this country which can be summed up in one word: community. Turn off the TV and look around and meet your neighbor. Join together to make real neighborhoods. Real neighborhoods are not collections of houses on cul de sacs where there are no meeting places, activities or resources in walking distance. Real neighborhoods are places where there are locally owned shops and cafes within walking distance, where people make things with their own hands, where food is grown that doesn’t have to be stored for weeks and trucked a thousand miles to be eaten, where yard waste is returned to the soil. In real neighborhoods, people have the modern equivalents of barn raisings and sewing circles and pumpkin festivals and support each other in times of trouble and celebrate together in times of joy and plenty.
I believe if we create real living communities like this, it will protect us from unemployment, hunger, and despair when there is no longer affordable gasoline and heating oil. If people live together more simply and share more, it will dramatically reduce the resources we use and the pollution we create. But more important than all of this, it will give us back lives of meaning, connectedness, and purpose and help us band together to reclaim some true American values.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.