“Citizenship is a kind of friendship, a mutual commitment to share the public project of our nation. We certainly disagree, debate, and try to win arguments as well as elections. But in all this we need to have the moral and spiritual generosity to enter into our adversaries’ ways of thinking, if but for a moment. We’re in this American project together. We need to accompany each other, even as we contest for the future.”
- R.R. Reno
I’m not much for predictions, but it’s pretty safe to look forward and see lots of division in the year ahead.
My side is good, your side is bad — that kind of thing.
Unfortunately, this old-fashioned “divide and conquer” political calculation has become much sharper and jagged in recent years. Now the other side isn’t just wrong, or even bad — the other side is portrayed as evil and out to destroy everything that we hold dear.
In most cases, that’s an incorrect and destructive way to approach things. It can help to win elections, though, so it’s become a standard, corrosive part of our electoral culture these days.
Winning elections is important, of course, but today’s scorched earth politics doesn’t leave much left for the winners to celebrate having won — nor for the losers (who’ll come out on top again eventually) to nourish themselves with besides bitterness and further division.
So for 2020, I’m going in the opposite direction. My resolution is to find what unites us, and strengthen that.
It starts at the local level. All good things do.
We’re blessed with countless small groups that are dedicated to preserving, promoting and enhancing some aspect of our shared good life. I did a quick search on nonprofits in just one local ZIP code and came up with 167 of them, from the Adna Booster Club (a shout out to two of its leaders: Patrick Richardson and Jodi Weilander) to the Young Professionals of Lewis County (and big thanks to its listed leaders on the state database: Trevor Elliott, Amanda Hubbert-Smith and Laura Six).
Every one of those groups depends on people just like you and me. People who give of their time, labor, money and general good cheer to keep going the things that we really want to keep around.
Not only do these groups help keep our community strong, they also provide an opportunity for us to work alongside other people of goodwill whose life experiences and perspectives are different than our own.
By rubbing shoulders with our neighbors, we can better understand the reasons that we might have different ideas on what’s best for our nation on the big-picture political ideas. Rather than the shouting heads on cable news or the insipid falsehoods shared on social media, we can talk and maybe even understand people who have heartfelt reasons for supporting a different candidate or direction for our state and nation.
And so, as we all consider our New Year’s resolutions for self-improvement, let’s also consider self-distribution. How can you give of yourself in the days and months ahead?
When you do right by your community, you’ll have a great time by getting involved. I promise.
Find an activity you find valuable and volunteer. Find a group you support and join. We need doers and joiners, builders and fixers if this community, this nation, this society is going to prosper and grow — or even endure.
If you don’t have a group in mind, I’d strongly encourage you to volunteer in your local school. It’ll take filling out a page of paperwork, but it’s worth it.
Just sitting with kindergartners and reading to them (or slowly sounding out words with first or second graders who are a little behind grade level) is incredibly important and richly rewarding.
I suspect you’ll come out of your local school with a mix of emotions. You’ll feel heartened by the great work going on in there. You’ll be concerned by the rough home life that so many students are struggling to overcome. And most of all, you’ll be thrilled with the ways that you helped a child have a better day, and maybe even a better life.
My goal for this year is simply to be worthy of the blessings I enjoy, and to do my part to keep them strong for those who will come after us. I encourage you to join me in this quest.
That’s a recipe for a happy, successful, and worthwhile 2020.
Brian Mittge would love to hear how you’re planning to become more involved in our community in the year ahead. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.