If local communities are to serve as the foundation for reclaiming the American spirit and sense of purpose, we must learn how to make them strong, dependable, and resilient.
Many of us do not know our immediate neighbors, much less those around the corner or down the road. If we want good people to depend on in a serious crisis, this has to change.
Good neighbors are earned.
Intractable problems can be resolved with access to a diversity of knowledge and skills — when we team up with others. Food security is going to be a concern, and we need people we can trust when the banks close or the power goes out for days or weeks.
Whatever the details, most can see that we are hovering on the edge of extreme conditions. A wide variety of impending crises are coming into view almost simultaneously.
I have shared my thinking with you about the essential role of local communities. I have explained why I believe communities, and networks of communities, will become the platform Americans depend on to meet local needs and move forward with common purpose.
Community will be the only place in the extreme days ahead where we have the ability and ready-made opportunity to control our destiny. We would do well to look around and assesses our circumstances.
Those of you who are naturally outgoing will find the following discussion simplistic. But for others the challenge of reaching out to strangers and proposing a common endeavor will be more imposing.
It will take courage to accept responsibility for the future.
There are several aspects to consider: 1) getting acquainted with strangers, 2) identifying unmet needs in your neighborhood, 3) explaining our ideas effectively and motives honestly, and 4) organizing cooperation to address common practical needs.
Community-wide efforts can involve lots of things. These might include local security, growing and preserving food, attracting youth to constructive pursuits, initiating small business enterprises, and troubleshooting technical problems that require creative thinking or specialized skills – such as electrical power, safe drinking water, and waste disposal.
Any of these possibilities can be placed on the table when we are getting acquainted. Hearing a range of possible benefits for engaging in mutual assistance can jump-start resistant minds.
Unless we already know someone well, the first step will be getting acquainted and thinking together about improving our circumstances. A warm, friendly exchange of simple ideas can be the basis for more substantive engagement down the road.
Try to begin by inviting people to share their feelings and views before you do. This will provide you with helpful information, and it will make it easier for them to listen to you. Do not pry or press. If, however, you can get another person talking, you will then find them far more open to hearing from you.
Once new acquaintances begin to warm to you, invite them to think with you about ways the community can be improved. Invite ideas and suggest some of your own. If you find an opening, share your hopes for the future.
It is best to downplay the more serious political or emotional issues until we have built a stronger positive connection. If you meet unreceptive people, don’t push. Be friendly and useful; stay in touch.
As relationships grow, watch for ways to demonstrate the practical benefits of a supportive community.
Soon we can begin to introduce people to each other. Small social gatherings can get us better acquainted. While remaining informal, we can introduce ideas by floating questions. How can we assist one another?
What problems or unmet needs do we know of? Who has skills? What skills would be we like to learn?
As we come to know one another better, we can begin to discuss our willingness to rise above our differences when needs are great or the stakes are high.
First we are human, then we are neighbors, and, finally, we are Americans who care. As individuals we can be none of these things in isolation.
The future of the United States is of immense importance – but the foundations of our reality are at home.
A note to readers: This blog posts every two weeks. Watch for the next post on or about March 14.
An introduction to the forthcoming book and several chapter drafts are posted on this site. Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.