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!