American Crucible

The extraordinary challenges confronting the American people will mark a turning point, and a test of America’s character and place in history.

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, a source of creative imagination and ingenuity, and as a singular model of freedom, diversity, and vitality.

In the cauldron of crises it is easy to forget the unparalleled historic meaning of the United States, and the role it has played in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.

Our confidence in the future is shaken by abandoned responsibility and collapsing institutions.

Economic well-being and the social coherence of the nation have been weakened.  The generosity of spirit for which Americans have long been known has faded.

This week I will step away from recent topics to revisit the central theme of this blog and forthcoming book.

I ask my fellow Americans to consider the danger in the present crisis – a threat to the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic.

The most basic underlying problems have not been caused by present or past leadership, but by structural change, by a weakened understanding of personal responsibility, and by a lack of constructive thinking.

Political leadership will not save us.  Hope lies in the hands of the American people and our readiness to rise to the occasion.

My question to you is this:  Will you align yourselves with a loyal core of American citizens, however diverse, who possess the will and the vision to assert our shared identity as a nation?

Small at first, we will grow.  This will take time, but increasing numbers will be attracted by the American spirit.

We have entered a great turning point that is neither partisan nor cultural, but rather social, ethical, and economic.  It has been brought on by greed, lack of foresight, and the abdication of moral responsibility over a long period of time.

My message is brief.  It will be short on analytical detail and will avoid blame.  There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it.

Rather, I will focus on the essentials of mind and attitude, of moral character, and of our relationships with one another that will be required to go forward.

The challenge will be to turn despair into courage and failure into honor and self-respect.

The book will acknowledge mistakes and the failure of vision and responsibility. I will consider the way we have gradually abandoned control over our lives.

However, I will do so not to fix blame, but for the purpose of understanding the steps required to build a stable future we can respect and believe in.

In the present fragile context, priority must go to ensuring the safety and well-being of our families and communities.  This will depend on trustworthiness — and teamwork among our neighbors.

There can be no freedom without trust.  And, we cannot begin to build trust or address the future without first securing stable local communities in which to resolve immediate problems, meet local needs, and learn to collaborate.

Is this really possible?

Yes, but only with great patience, a commitment to fairness, and a determination to pursue constructive, life-affirming solutions.

America has gained its vitality from our diversity and the creative engagement found in the clash of differing opinions.

I do not ask you to alter your views, but to listen to others with interest — to understand, influence, and debate.

Our differences must not be permitted to subvert the unity of purpose that defines this nation.

At a time of existential danger we are confronted with a stark choice.

Will we seek the ideal of collaboration made possible by the Constitution?  Will we protect two hundred years of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice by generations of Americans who have given their lives to this unprecedented vision?

Or, will we give way to the emotions of uncompromising partisanship – and allow a great trust to vanish from history?

Tom

A note to regular readers:  My blog posts are adapted from a forthcoming book.  They appear both on this page and at facebook.com/freedomstruth.  You will find a project description here (linked above), as well as an introduction to the book and full drafts of several chapters.

Values in a Deepening Crisis

Once again I want to ask readers to consider the values and principles we should rely on during the long crisis ahead.  We want to survive tough times and come out the other side better than when we started.  And surely this means doing so with moral integrity and self-respect.

This is a crisis that has been a long time coming.  The many challenges we face are complex, fluid, and unpredictable.  At times it will feel like the ground is shifting beneath our feet.

Perspective is easily distorted in a crisis.  The horizon we depend on to stabilize our vision and judge progress may be veiled.  Decisions we are forced to make on the fly will depend on the attitudes, principles and courage we have already internalized in our mind and soul.

These are our most precious possessions.  There may be times when they are all we can count on.

We have entered a great turning point, a crucible in which the strength of the American identity will re-emerge in clearer focus.

I would like you to distinguish between moral values that guide our personal lives, and the broader principles that can guide a stumbling nation back to stability and take Americans forward into a future we can respect and believe in.

Certainly, these are closely related, but how do we prioritize in the interests of the nation?

Let’s keep some basic realities in mind as we do this.

First, at the present time our local communities are the only place where we have the freedom and the immediate opportunity to stabilize our lives.  Here we can seek safety and security by working together.

However, we can only succeed if we are willing to join forces despite our differences.

How do we feel about conflicting values?  What principles do we need to agree on to allow local collaboration and problem-solving?

Second, this nation was founded on the basis of principles that are represented by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  These are not in question here.  One of those principles is freedom of religion.  Americans have the precious freedom to practice our own religion unhindered, but are discouraged from imposing our beliefs on one another.

There are some who view religious principles as limiting to their principles of personal freedom.  Others believe that true freedom is only possible when guided by the constraints of moral integrity taught by religion.

There also happen to be a number of religious concerns that have significant social implications.

One familiar example would be the importance of honesty, trustworthiness and good will in politics, as well as in personal and business relationships.

Another would be the termination of human life before physical birth.

Still another would be the enforced imposition of principles of social responsibility on those of libertarian inclination who have not agreed to such principles.

I could go on.  Many Americans do not believe that such questions have anything to do with religion despite their metaphysical qualities.

So, again, let’s distinguish between 1) those religious or philosophical values that can best ensure a good and responsible personal life, and 2) those broader principles necessary to knit the social and economic fabric of the United States back together.

And, let’s remember that the pluralistic tradition in American history and culture allows us to grow, change, and influence one another of our own free will rather than by force.

We can only attract interested consideration of our own views when we treat one another with dignity and respect.

The bottom line is both simple and challenging.  We know we will never agree on many things.  Americans have always been a contentious lot.  Yet, we have chosen on many occasions to unite, to defend the Constitution and the inclusive character of the nation when these have been threatened.

And so I ask:  What is required to allow us to pull together as a nation now, while yet allowing each to remain comfortable in his or her own views and beliefs?

I expect your comments to be wide ranging.  Please be direct and to the point, which will be helpful as my book progresses.

Tom

A note to regular readers:  I have returned from my travels and intend to post regularly.  Please remember to check in!  A project description and an introduction to the book are available on this page, as well as full drafts of several chapters.

A Deepening Crisis

There is trouble in the land.  The signs that things are not right confront us daily.  The mainstream media focuses on conflict, politics and the economy, but we know the disintegration goes far deeper.

The illness reveals itself in hostility and bitterness, in material deprivations, in the degradation of human dignity and loss of moral responsibility.  Many of us share a sinking feeling.  We are afraid of the future and, increasingly, we fear one another.

Numerous oncoming crises rise like storm clouds above a darkening horizon.

I have surveyed some of these threats in Chapter Two of the coming book: “A Confluence of Crises.”  Many are interrelated.  I have argued that we must pull ourselves together despite our differences, both for self-preservation and to ensure the endurance of the America we value and believe in.

The broad themes running through this blog (and the book) are the survival of this constitutional republic and the necessity for Americans to work together, shoulder-to-shoulder in the coming years to meet local needs and resolve local problems.

As challenging as this may be, we really do not have a choice.

My purpose here is to reach out to my fellow Americans, to propose practical tools, and with a positive spirit, to get us through a dark chaotic time and out the other side.

I believe our greatest challenge will be to recognize the love and hope for this country we all share despite our many differences.  This can only happen when we determine to inquire and listen to one another with a genuine interest in finding a shared understanding.

We are called upon to rebuild the foundations of the nation in preparation for a future we can respect and believe in.  This will require courage, patience, determination.

The negativity and hopelessness we sometimes feel are caused by the crises around us and must not be permitted to define our future.  Even when we cannot see our way clearly, we must ensure that our actions are consistent with the ends we seek.

The dangers of internal conflict and disunity are especially great in a degrading social order.  We have arrived at an historic turning point, both as Americans and as human beings.

The world is undergoing massive structural change, a process taking place outside the realm of our normal experience and expectations.  This is caused by events that are beyond our control, but we have to deal with it.

What do I mean by structural change?

Examples include the uncontrolled advance of technology that threatens life and liberty, the unprecedented complexity of economic relationships and fiscal distortions, the overwhelming dominance of the very wealthy, and the threats of terrorism, bankrupt governments, and a large aging population with insufficient savings.

All of these have little to do with partisan politics.  That mistakes have been made and illusions foolishly pursued is undeniable.  But, very big changes are coming that are actually not anyone’s fault.

This blog has focused on values, principles, and learning to live in community – because we are entering new territory.  We have passed beyond the limits of our understanding and experience.

To think of the future in terms of recovering the past will not be helpful.  We must pick ourselves up, hit the reset button, and move forward with a spirit that is congruent with a rapidly changing reality.

Tom

Important note for regular readers:  This blog normally posts every two weeks.  However, I will be traveling in late March and April, and hope to begin posting again in May.  You may register for emailed alerts by clicking the “Follow” button on this page.

Please note that a full draft of Chapter Six, “Confronted by the Past”, has recently been added to others at the top of the page.

Security Begins at Home

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.

Tom

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.

 

Yes, Americans Do Have Differences

I wrote recently of the value of teamwork in meeting local needs and making our communities safe (January 15).  I argued that faced with oncoming crises we would do well to respond in a constructive spirit – yet prepare for frustrations.

Working with neighbors can make a big difference in security and comfort. Agreement about practical needs and a willingness to focus on common purpose will make it easier to make things work.

This means rising above our differences to connect as allies and collaborators.  But, it will not be necessary to compromise our personal views and beliefs.  It is essential that we maintain our personal dignity and self-respect.

As we take on local problem-solving the challenge is to be both self-confident within ourselves – and respectful of others.

It can certainly be difficult to work with people.  Some difficulties are easier to overcome than others.  We can often make interpersonal connections with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but sometimes it takes great patience and determination.

Why should we make this effort?

The coming days and years will redefine the meaning of crisis for everyone.  Safety will require that we can depend on our neighbors.  Learning how to listen well and understand one another will become an important part of learning how to survive and prevail in the face of great challenges.

The science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein once commented, “I never learned from a man who agreed with me.”

Coming to understand the personality and perspective of another person can be useful in itself, even if no possibility of agreement exists.

This can be the means for crystallizing our own thinking and beliefs.  And, if we approach it as a learning experience we will have much to gain, including knowledge, skills, and perspective.

Aristotle is believed to have said that “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Well, Aristotle did not attend high school, and neither have some of us.  But, it is our job to figure out what he meant and learn how to do it.

Aggravation aside, we are all capable of respecting the sincerity and intrinsic integrity of every human being, allowing our differences to exist freely in their own space, distinct from the roles of community-member, teammate, or friend.

Suppose we find ourselves dealing with a person who presents us with special challenges – perhaps someone who does not believe effective community is possible, or who values their privacy to an extreme, or is just unreceptive?

It is almost always possible to work with someone who we find difficult if we are determined to find a way.

It is prudent to remember, however, that in such circumstances we cannot allow ourselves be emotionally needy or easily disheartened.  Such an effort calls for backbone as well as a positive attitude and a generous spirit.

The wise do not impose themselves until they obtain a hearing.

If, however, we are able to plant the seeds of community in the fertile soil of the human heart, and water them gently with compassion and kindness, we may not have to wait long before the green shoots spring forth.

Often it is impossible to know why someone remains unresponsive despite our best efforts.  Pain is often hidden there, whether or not it is conscious.  And, caring will always give solace, however silently it is received.

When we make ourselves present in the life of another without expectation or demand, healing can take place even without our knowing – until the dam breaks and the words flow.

It might take days, weeks, or years.  But it will come.

In a little book called “The Miracle of Dialogue” (1963), the Christian theologian Dr. Reuel L. Howe wrote that “every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love.  Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another. Dialogue is to love what blood is to the body…. When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born.

Tom

Note to readers: Watch for the next post on or about February 28.

A new chapter (in draft), “Confronted by the Past,” was posted on this page last weekend.  A project description and introduction to the coming book can also be found with the links above.  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

The Price of Freedom

Living or working with other people may be the most difficult thing we ever do.  Even a marriage can be hard work.  And yet, if we choose to rebuild the foundations of the American Republic this is our core mission.

To regain the free and fully engaged civil society of the American past, and renew the strength of America that sustains both vision and spirit, we must find common purpose.  Without dependable communities there can be no real safety or security.  And, without trust nothing is dependable.

These are prizes to be fought for and gained through consistent and determined effort.  Where do we start?  How can we navigate the inevitable bumps and bruises of working relationships in a time of crisis?

When we are working with someone who is emotionally mature and relatively open-minded it might not be hard to develop an understanding.  If, however, we need to work with someone who is anxious or has wounds from the past, (or is convinced they already know everything), then building a constructive relationship will take time and patience.

Rising above our differences is almost always possible, if we have the patience and will to persist.

There are two basic requirements.  The first is to get our motives straight – to have a positive attitude and clearly formed intentions.  The second is to gain practical interpersonal skills.  Both will be addressed in the coming book.

When in any potentially sensitive interpersonal relationship it is wise to look beyond superficial impressions.  We need to recognize the free personhood and integrity of other individuals, regardless of their experience or perceptions.

Relatively new acquaintances may not seem attractive at first, or might actually seem more attractive than they deserve.  We must try patiently to discover who they really are.

Each of us is a complex mystery.  We can only come to genuinely know one another if we have the generosity of spirit to inquire and take interest.  This takes time, but can be a rich and meaningful experience.

Stephen Covey has written that “every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…, the power to choose, to respond, to change.”

If we seek to build trust, and if we believe in freedom, all of these endowments must be recognized and actualized.

Many of us are unaware of our own endowments, our own potential to grow and mature.  And the surest way to learn and grow is in the effort to build functional relationships.

Many people will not share our personal vision or sense of purpose.  They may not understand what we are inviting them to do, and may be distrustful until we prove ourselves.  We need to communicate clearly, making sure we are understood, and find ways to work together.

We cannot wait for others to take the lead.  The initiative is ours to take.  This is how we test our skills and put rubber to the road.

Elbert Hubbard said, “Responsibility is the price of freedom.”  And Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Understanding comes through relationship, and the best way to build strong relationships is to team up to meet community needs.  It is in working together to address felt-needs and resolve practical problems that we really come to know one another.

Now, suppose we need to join forces with people who are very different from us.  Perhaps our politics are at odds, or someone has religious or philosophical views that we find strange or unpleasant.

How can we get along – and actually trust others in difficult or dangerous circumstances? We will touch on this in the next post.

Again, I believe the bottom line is this: In every matter our concern must be to preserve and deepen the level of trust, because we can expect to remain under the pressures of disrupted lives and deteriorating social conditions for a long time.

Americans are a resourceful people.  We will get through this and come out on the other side as better people.

Tom

Note to readers:  Please look for the next post on or about February 14.

The introduction and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are posted at this page; see above.  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

The Problem of Trust and the Future of Humanity

Trustworthiness and dependability are usually thought of as admirable aspects of personal character.  But as we witness the continuing deterioration of social order it becomes increasingly clear that these priceless attributes are pillars of civilization.

Fear of crime or violence will cripple any society, but the greatest insecurity comes with the loss of trust between friends or neighbors or fellow workers – those we depend on and thought we understood.

Have we found ourselves unexpectedly questioning whether someone we trusted is actually who we thought they were?  When such questions arise, how can we be sure?  How does one keep body and soul together?  It is hard to recover.

Distrust makes the world precarious.  Uncertainties spread; confidence vanishes.

Things fall apart.

Businesses are particularly vulnerable to loss of trust.  Without dependability in governance and consistency in economic policy businesses are hobbled by unpredictability.  Business owners cannot plan.  And a market economy abhors uncertainty.

This is not the way any of us wish to live our lives.  If constant uncertainty makes things feel out of control, it can get scary.

What can we do as responsible people when we live in a society dominated by distrust and a general lack of personal integrity?

The benefits can be great when we choose to be trustworthy ourselves – in spite of everything.  We can be consciously determined to demonstrate what moral integrity means.  But this is not easy.  If America is to turn the corner it will take time and extraordinary patience.

We will have to keep the necessity of dependability in focus at all times.

Nothing will change unless we establish the effectiveness of trustworthiness to those around us and draw attention to its’ value.

In so doing, it will be important that we not fool ourselves into imagining that we are better than others who are failing to meet our standards.  Moral pride can be obvious, and it will push people away.

How can we assist others to understand and value integrity?  Self-righteousness fails to acknowledge that everyone has the capacity to recognize their mistakes.  So, if we would help America move on to a better future we need to be self-disciplined in our contacts and relationships.  Kindness attracts; arrogance offends.

Moral pride,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, “is revealed in all ‘self-righteous’ judgments in which the other is condemned because he fails to conform to the highly arbitrary standards of the self.  Since the self judges itself by its own standards it finds itself good. It judges others by its own standards and finds them evil when their standards fail to conform to its own.  This is the secret of the relationship between cruelty and self-righteousness.” (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. I, p. 199.)

Readers who profess their belief in the Christian Faith may recall the admonition of St. Paul when he wrote: “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things….” (Romans 2:1)

Those of other faiths, or those who do not consider themselves religious, will never-the-less recognize this compelling logic.

Integrity is a personal choice.  We must never assume that others are incapable of cleaning up their act.  It is an intrinsic capacity we are given at birth.

A word of warning before we finish: When we recognize a consistent pattern of dishonesty and deceptiveness, it can become necessary to distance ourselves from it.  Such destructiveness permeates and subverts everything around it.

We must be practical, but also ready, if possible, to care for people who are troubled in this way. The greatest forgiveness is the least deserved.

However, forgiveness and trust are two entirely different things.  Once trust is lost, it can be very difficult to recover.

So it is that the restoration of trust and dependability in all our endeavors must be championed by every American as we enter a new day.

Without trust the future is lost.

Tom

A note to readers:  This blog posts regularly.  The next post is due on or about January 31. However, it will be less predictable than usual as I will be traveling.

You may request emailed alerts by clicking the Follow button on this page.

The Promise and Reward in Teamwork

Readers are quite right to question how I can expect the intense hostilities and incivility current among the American people to allow any dialog or cooperation at all.

I have never said it would be easy.  It will be extremely difficult.  But I believe we have no choice.  Our failure saps our spirit, undermines our strength and impedes governance.  It could actually lead to the loss of the American Republic and everything it stands for.

I think it interesting that our young people can commit themselves to discipline, teamwork, and decisive action in the armed forces – while the rest of us appear unwilling to exercise even basic civility, much less the loyalty and generosity that have characterized the American tradition.

Faced with an oncoming series of major crises, it will be necessary to renew our spirits and brace ourselves for frustrations.  Working with our neighbors to resolve local problems will bring us together.  Collaborating to meet shared needs will steady our course.

The success of communities in developing shared purpose and strategies for coping, will be critically important.  This can only happen when we rise above our differences and begin to understand and trust one another as friends, neighbors, and allies.

It is not necessary to compromise our personal views and beliefs.  The challenge is to be both self-confident within ourselves and respectful of others as we engage in local problem-solving.

This might require that we adjust our attitudes.  Can we come to terms with one another as teammates and compatriots committed to the fundamental integrity of the nation?

No cohesive effort can be mounted, much less succeed, if we cannot get ourselves onto the same page.  This will not be possible if we cannot communicate with civility and listen with understanding.

The way we handle working relationships and resolve local problem-solving will be the first stage in preparing for the future.  A right attitude for dealing with an immediate crisis, as I suggested in an earlier post, will probably be the right attitude for working with one another to build a better future.

There will inevitably be confusion at times, and difficulties comprehending problems.  The American people are under immense pressure.  Many of us are already demoralized.

Those who have the presence of mind to engage in problem-solving will need to step forward and pull their neighbors together.

Working with people can be one of our greatest tests.  This is a fundamental aspect of the life we have been given in this world.

I will continue to offer practical perspectives and tools for building trust and dependability when working with people in our communities, including those who are especially difficult to work with.

Assistance will be available in my forthcoming book, and more detailed guidance will follow in a handbook for communities.

A variety of topics will include:  1) Rising above personal differences to build dependable relationships; 2) local decision-making in small groups; 3) planning and managing community gardens and other local projects; and, 4) responding to conflict with an approach called conflict transformation.

You might wonder what I mean by “conflict transformation”.

This is a practical approach to serious conflict, which is described most clearly by John Paul Lederach in “The Little Book of Conflict Transformation”.  The book is inexpensive and available from major booksellers.

Conflict transformation looks beyond immediate surface issues to recognize and respond to the personal or group experiences that led to the conflict.  It seeks first to reach a shared understanding of perceptions and underlying causes, and then to address the actual human needs relating to the conflict.  Finally, participants are invited to join in seeking satisfying solutions.

When the going gets tough, we would do well to remember that user-friendly tools are available for group collaboration and problem-solving, online and from booksellers.

No one can do this for us.  Each of us can learn – if we have the will to stand up, take responsibility for the future, and refuse to give up.

Tom

Notes to new readers:  Please watch for the next post on or about January 17.  A project description and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are linked on this page (see above).  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

Self-reliance: Local, Dependable

Once the primary force behind a strong economy, the American middle class has been devastated by the economic aberrations and distortions of recent decades.  Those with least resources have suffered most.

Living from paycheck to paycheck, with no savings and harnessed to debt, most are ill-prepared for retirement.  It is difficult for Americans to envision a meaningful future under such conditions.

Clearly, it is time for ordinary Americans to pull ourselves together to reassert the self-reliance once venerated in our national character, and to unite around a course of action that affirms a self-respect and a self-confidence that no hardship can shake.

Hopelessness breeds helplessness, and neither is acceptable.

How can this happen?  The starting place to regain the American spirit is in our local communities.   Here we have a measure of control despite the constraints arrayed against us, and the freedom to initiate constructive action.

Such an endeavor calls upon us to rise above our differences for the sake of the nation.  We are not asked to alter our views, but to collaborate whenever we recognize shared needs and can find common cause.

All of us have skills, and the ability to teach and learn from others.  Everyone has undiscovered capacities.  Together we can rebuild America, each making the effort to bring others along with us, teaching, serving, sharing knowledge, skills, and energy.

We need to focus our vision, develop locally-based cash economies, and begin to rethink the future.  When social and economic well-being becomes a mutual necessity we will discover numerous opportunities to contribute.

What we need most from each other is a positive attitude.  Let’s get acquainted with our neighbors and expand our network of relationships, reaching outward from our personal comfort zone.  There will be rich rewards.

The majority of our neighbors will warm to us when we show an interest in them.  The more we demonstrate our interest in them, the better most people will listen to what we have to say.

Listening with a genuine intent to understand almost always gets results.  If this fails despite your persistent good will, leave them to themselves.

Why is this so important?  Because trust and dependability are critically important at times of disunity and danger.  Especially among neighbors.

Safety depends on it.  Constructive action depends on it.

With some care and thoughtfulness, we will begin to see productive opportunities open up – ways to team people up with each other, to share knowledge and deepen trust.  We each have the capacity to learn new skills and take on new roles.

Again, this does not require that we alter our views, but it does give others a chance to understand the reasoning behind our views.

Personal perspectives often change in new circumstances.

Sometimes we do not realize how our own experience can be helpful to others in unexpected ways.  The capacity and knowledge of others might be suppressed or veiled by suffering.  Let’s listen and give encouragement!

I assure you that an open-minded investigation into the potential capacity of every individual will yield unexpected gems.

This is far more than a charitable concern.  It will expand community resources, and strengthen security in dangerous times.  Even individuals lacking in capacity will often respond to caring attention with the greatest compassion, energy, and loyalty.

Let’s reach out and test our limits.

As I have said, the road to freedom is built with vision, principle, and responsibility.  Americans are caring, inventive and resourceful.  We can rise to the challenge, freeing ourselves from negativity and partisan bickering.

We are capable: We can do this!

Tom

A note to regular readers:  The blog will take a brief break for the holidays.  Please watch for the next post on or about January 3.

A project description, an introduction and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are posted at this site (see links above).  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

Where is the Baseline?

When we begin to think strategically about the future, there are a number of imposing challenges and baffling questions to be addressed.  I offer one here for your consideration.

Bigness has been a hallmark of American culture and has been said to reflect the spirit of the nation.  As an expression of raw power, massive engineering projects have fascinated Americans – and the rest of the world – for a long time.

Great ships, long bridges, tall buildings and world-changing inventions have transformed the material world throughout American history.  Many of us recall the awe we felt as we watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon – live on television.

In recent decades we have watched huge banks and corporations grow ever larger, crushing the small businesses we used to favor on Main Street, USA and dispersing our jobs to distant places.

Eventually corporate America decided it did not need Americans at all.  Jobs were moved across the sea to places that had less interest in protecting the safety and comfort of working people.

We were told this would be good for us; that the cost of living would fall.  They said we could buy the things we need more cheaply – with the money we no longer have.

And then we became accustomed to “big-box stores” filled with cheapened goods manufactured somewhere far away by some other struggling people.

With the success of big business, the wealthy elite have become ever wealthier, and an ever-larger portion of personal wealth has been effectively removed from the consumer economy.

Bigness was supposed to be more efficient; it is not. It was supposed to improve the standard of living for ordinary Americans. It has done the opposite.

Large corporations have destroyed millions of small and medium-sized businesses, as well as the millions of decent jobs they once created.  Indeed, we now know that with very few exceptions large corporations are net destroyers of jobs.

In the last decade the American middle class, once the engine of American economic ascendancy, has in many ways ceased to exist.  With their role as “consumers” crippled by job losses and “hidden” inflation, many who were once in the middle class are now unable to envision a better future or even to afford a new mortgage.

You know whereof I speak.  A massive and unresponsive government dominates the economy, consuming the national wealth while producing nothing itself.  Huge impersonal corporations, for which honesty and responsibility serve no intrinsic purpose, show little concern for the consumer economy, much less the social and economic integrity of the nation.

As Americans we should be well-practiced at asserting our views, but we have allowed this situation to reach an extreme.  Indeed, we have fed it with our own rampant materialism and couch-potato lives.  And now it has morphed into a monster.

This is not a problem that can be legislated away.  How are we to turn it around?

Will economic catastrophe force a rational re-ordering of things?  Or will individual foresight, ingenuity, and determination forge a new economic course?  Americans should know how to “think-out-of-the-box.”

Whether we face the chaotic state of collapse, or the confusion and disorder of a long grinding depression, it is apparent that ordinary Americans must find a way to build the foundations for effective governance and a renewed economic order.

But – where do we start?  Here in the 21st century, where is the baseline?

I suggest that our local communities are the only place where we have the power and potential to take initiative, to make things happen.

I am not an experienced entrepreneur, but many of my readers are.  Many of you are inventive; most are smart.  It is time to put our creative imagination to work to figure this out.

Survival is not a new concept; neither is creating wealth from scratch.  These things are difficult and time-consuming, but they have been accomplished successfully over and over again for centuries.

This time is special.  We need community.

The unity needed for rebuilding begins with individual initiative – each making the effort to bring others along with us, teaching, serving, sharing knowledge, skills, and energy – building a future with a safe place for everyone.

Tom

A note to readers: This blog posts regularly; please watch for the next post on or about December 12.

Responsibility and Trust in America

Community is the seat of civilization. It is in our local communities that we engage with one another face-to-face and work shoulder-to-shoulder.  And, it is in responding to crises and meeting shared needs that we earn respect, learn patience and build trust.

With our neighbors we can overcome disorder in our own little corner of the world.  Trust and responsibility don’t just appear by good fortune.  They are formed in the trials of necessity and hardship.

Like a marriage, a genuine commitment to community forces us to mature as adult people – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  Perhaps this is why so many avoid full participation.

However, there are other reasons to live responsibly.  Just beyond the boundaries of family, community is that place where the reality of immediate needs must be addressed and resolved.

Americans have avoided personal responsibility for these aspects of civilized life for a long time.  We will continue to do so at our peril.

It was not always thus.  Prior to the American Revolution and for close to 100 years afterward Americans gravitated easily, even impulsively, toward decentralized local governance and an independent frame of mind.  We managed our own affairs in cooperation with our neighbors and expected regional autonomy as a natural condition.

Civil society flourished during America’s first century, a vibrant force that was documented admiringly by Alexis de Tocqueville in his two volume commentary, Democracy in America.  Americans created an immense variety of civic organizations to address every conceivable interest and social need.  Citizens did this on their own initiative, inspired by their sense of belonging and the spirit of the times.  There were few restrictions or constraints.

The need for community in America, both in spirit and as a practical matter, is as important today as it has ever been.  It is only in direct engagement with our neighbors, and in all spheres of problem-solving, that we will learn the skills of living and working productively with one another.

As Americans, we have been here before and we can do it again.

Some argue that the decentralist tradition of the American past represents an ideal to which we should aspire.  And this is, indeed, an attractive vision.  However, I think it should be apparent for all to see that there must be a balance struck between a nation of fully engaged local communities and a competent and trustworthy central government that respects and protects the primacy of local responsibility.

At the present time it is difficult to imagine a limited central government managed by mature adults who are prepared to protect both our freedoms and our security.  But, that is what we need.

Without law there can be no freedom.  And, there can be no freedom without a mature understanding of responsibility.  I believe that a valid vision of limited government for the American future can only come from a view firmly anchored in local communities.

Those who understand trust, moral responsibility, and constructive action – and who recognize the very high stakes involved – will build the foundations for the American renewal at home, with their neighbors.

Building unity within communities is a gradual process.  It depends on each of us to reach out across our differences, to form friendships that develop trust, to be supportive in times of trouble, and to influence the hearts and minds of all who care.

It will take time and patience, creative thinking and new skills, and we will do it because America is too important to lose.  The future of humankind depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers: Watch for the next post on or about November 28.   Please note that a project description and several sample chapters from the forthcoming book are linked on this page.

Toward A Stronger America

The sorrows and shame of recent days are not unexpected or isolated in the American experience.  However, they rise now on the crest of a wave of fear and agitation, sharp reflections of extreme and intensifying social and economic pain.

We have arrived at a turning point.  Mean-spirited hostility and irrational violence challenge us to refocus our identity as Americans.  We have much to learn about seeking grace in the midst of trouble.

Recovering a future we can respect and believe in will not be easy.  Numerous emerging crises imperil an already fragile social order.  The coming years will call on each of us for courage and fortitude.

Perhaps most challenging, local community safety and resilience necessitate working together despite our diversity.  Meeting locally shared needs will be the priority in the face of severe crises.

Rising above our differences may seem an overwhelming obstacle, but I do not believe we have a choice.

A strong America will only be possible with sufficient unity to enable social stability and good governance.  And, unity can only be found with patience, forbearance, and a positive attitude – personal qualities that can best be locally grown.

Along with these qualities, communities need members with diverse practical skills, knowledge and experience.  There will be no security without working relationships that are trustworthy and dependable.

The qualities and skills we need to survive in the present may prove constructive as we move toward the future.  A right attitude for dealing with an immediate crisis will probably be the right attitude for working with one another to shape our destiny as a nation.

There will be no effective means for moving forward without a commitment to collaborate.  The ends we wish to achieve will be determined by the means we use to reach them.

This is not theory, but reality.

An honest consultative process, with ends and means in harmony, will gather and further develop the best ideas.  Positive change comes with fully inclusive citizen engagement.

Americans can do this.  The energy of citizens working in well-organized communities will generate a pattern that will prevail over time.  A resilient future will reflect the strength gained from lessons learned.

Regular readers know I will not prescribe political solutions.  Rather, I will suggest ground rules for collaboration and decision-making, and identify topics for dialog and consultation that can allow a truly American vision to emerge from the rich soil we have inherited from the past.

In addition to the difficulties we face in meeting local needs, we are also confronted with looming structural changes in the social economy and the wider world.  Community-building for survival is only the first step.

Unity of purpose can benefit from an accurate understanding of what is happening in the wider world.  However, distorted information and periods of confusion are inevitable.  Safety and stability is most important and will depend on steady hands – holding firmly to ethical principle and moral responsibility as individuals and as communities, wherever we find ourselves.

The clear thinking needed to overcome the threat of social disintegration can only come from citizens who understand trust, responsibility, and constructive action.  The stakes are very high.

Americans disagree often; we are a contentious lot.  Yet, our strength comes through a diversity that broadens our perspective, knowledge, and skills – and through our readiness to rise above our differences to build an open, free-spirited society.

Ultimately, the Constitution of the United States is essential as the anchor for safety.  The future depends on it.  And, the re-emergence of a healthy civil society will restore balance and character to the vision that sustains us.

The day will come when Americans will be known again for our generosity of spirit.  The pattern of the future will emerge from the learning we acquire as we struggle to conquer the challenges of this great turning point.

Tom

A note to regular readers:  Please watch for the next post on or about November 14.  I would appreciate your comments.  I value your feedback!