How are you celebrating our nation’s birthday?
Hot dogs, watermelon, and fireworks? Going to the theater to see Top Gun: Maverick or cuddled on the couch watching The American President or West Wing? Participating in a protest or registering your neighbors to vote? Joining a Civic Saturday gathering or reading the Declaration of Independence (or Democracy 2.0 Declaration) with your family and friends? How are you celebrating your patriotism during this divided time?
The last few years have deepened feelings of loneliness, disconnection, powerlessness, and discord. Recent repeals of rights, violence in our schools, racially motivated attacks, war, insurrection, economic uncertainty, and systemic suppression of many voices present the argument that it’s time to deepen the lines in the sand, expand the definition of the enemy, and further entrench ourselves and prepare for battle. For many, the fight can even feel unwinnable and turn to an internal struggle of agency, efficacy, purpose, apathy, and self-worth. This struggle is real and deeply impacts our mental health and the health of our republic.
I had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC earlier this summer and explore our memorials of founders and monuments to democracy with my family. I read the powerful words of MLK, Jefferson, FDR, and Lincoln to my kids and asked them what they meant to them. Despite the lectures lasting a bit longer than they wanted, they played along and mainly fed me back Hamilton lyrics. Yet while I've read those words dozens of times, the context of the past couple of years changed their meaning slightly. I pondered, what do we do when we feel our own government and institutions are defining us as the other? Thriving communities are built on a sense of belonging and require common ground to bring people together around shared struggle, collaborative problem solving, and celebration of collective accomplishment. We have an urgent need and a unique opportunity to emerge from this moment stronger together through empathy, curiosity, inclusion, cooperation, and kindness. How might we expand our definition of “We” by having fearlessly curious conservations (as described in I Never Thought of It That Way) to better understand our neighbors, our friends, and our family? One bright light I’m inspired by (and had the privilege to help build) is the recent partnership announced between California Volunteers, Office of the Governor, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and the Othering & Belonging Institute to stem growing polarization by strengthening social connections through developing training and evaluation resources for service programs. This collaboration has the potential to catalyze a broader opportunity for bridge building in California - building on and connecting to amazing work happening around the country including Civic Health Project, Interfaith America, Bridge Alliance, Living Room Conversations, The Citizens Campaign, and many more…
So, what might we do differently this Fourth of July?
Start a Conversation - invite a neighbor or new friend to join your BBQ and ask them how they are feeling right now. Listen to their response and ask a follow up question based on what they said. Listen to that response and ask a follow up question again. When given the opportunity, people will show their humanity, share their struggles, and potentially describe their hope and/or fear for the future.
Join or host a Civic Saturday gathering or just watch the video and ponder the focal question: “What shall we mutually pledge to do so our country can live up to its promise?”
Find a Volunteer opportunity near you to help meet an unmet need and connect with people beyond your daily social circle.
Happy Fourth, Dave