Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016: Building Community

What do efforts to deal with global warming, the displacement of refugees, and the fight against terrorism have in common with efforts to address local quality of life issues such as failing physical infrastructures, the educational achievement gaps among racial and income groups, tensions over police shootings, and growing income disparities?

All of these issues require that we form strong social bonds if we want to make progress and improve our quality of life. Building community – in its broadest sense – demands our attention for this new year.

We, the inhabitants of this planet, share a common destiny. We will succeed or fail together to overcome ecological and social challenges at the global level. Nothing but working together – setting a worldwide vision and achieving it – will enable humanity to survive and thrive. Joint efforts have become a necessity for resolving economic, social, environmental, and other problems that transcend political boundaries and require us to forge social ties throughout a world community.

Closer to home, local quality of life issues related to infrastructure, education, housing, health care, and other parts of our lives demand reliance on our social groups – families, neighbors, community associations. The education of our children, for example, requires strong ties between parents and children, within neighborhoods, and between communities and schools. Each part of the community needs to stand up, do its part, and communicate with the other parts.

As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” By implication, we must nurture a cooperative spirit among the “all” in order to nurture the well-being of every “one” of us.

What practical implications does this reality have? Just a few examples, related to issues in the current press.

The achievement gap. For those who see the achievement gap as someone else’s problem, who feel that any mismatch between the competencies of our graduates and the needs of employers falls only on the shoulders of the business community to solve, please understand that all children are our children. We have a connection to them along with moral and practical imperatives to ensure their healthy development. If any of them fail, we all as a community fail.

Police/resident tensions. Recent police shootings have exacerbated already strained relationships between the police and some residents of our communities. One public official went so far a few weeks ago as to suggest that residents of his area should throw stones at the police. If we want to move forward productively, we need to resist the temptation to construct barriers. Community leaders should invite police officers to the next neighborhood barbecue, ask some of them to join in at youth clubs or school events to discuss their work, and take whatever steps possible to forge social connections that will build understanding and trust.

Immigration. We all come from somewhere else. Even our Native American residents migrated from another place. We serve as temporary caretakers of our land and our civilization, with generations of people to follow, some who look like us and many who do not. While surely we must protect ourselves from those who would do harm, we must put more focus on connecting with new arrivals. Efforts to foster continued success for today’s immigrants — private and public efforts alike, collective and individual — will pay rich dividends and honor our own immigrant pasts.

All of us can provide more examples. The theme is clear. Nurturing social connections, building community – we must focus on those activities during 2016 in order to achieve a better world for all.

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