We are a deeply divided country. Just bring up politics at work or in a social gathering and you will see how heated the conversation becomes. Americans have significantly different views about how our nation should be returned to its prior prominence. People are angry which makes logical conversations about our differences in opinion even harder. Something needs to change.
We are quick to jump on political bandwagons of change every election year. We quickly point the finger of blame at politicians and the “idiots” in Washington or our state capital. But what if we are to blame? What if we are actually at fault for the current state of our nation? What if we played a role in the current polarized, powder keg of American politics?
Mark Dunkelman explains in this article how the sad state of our nation is tied directly to our lack of community in towns and cities across America. Dunkelman tells how we each have three tiers of relationships. Our first tier is our close family and friend relationships. Next comes our middle tier relationships of those who we regularly come in contact with but aren’t intimate. These relationships come from a broad spectrum of our community. Finally we have the third tier that involves transactional relationships that are based on a shared interest.
When American society was healthy and balanced, communities fostered middle tier relationships. Immigrants lived in neighborhoods where lawyers, doctors and skilled workers lived together. Urban neighborhoods were connection points for people from different walks of life. People knew what the other side of a political debate felt because they had relationships with them. Politicians from either side of the aisle debated during the week but sat down for drinks on the weekend. Then something changed.
Middle class families left the urban centers for the suburbs. The internet allowed people to connect with those who shared their specific views. Instead of spending time on our front porches, we spend time in front of our TVs. Over the past fifty years Americans are connecting in deeper ways with their close intimate friends and family and connecting with third tier “friends” who share their specific beliefs. We have lost our middle tier relationships with those who are different from us.
So how do we make America great again? Personally, we need to look for middle tier relationships with those who are different from us. Get to know a parent who is from a different social class than our own. Frequent a “third place” (bar, coffee shop, bookstore) outside of our neighborhood and get to know the regulars. Attend community forums and listen instead of speaking your mind.
On a community level, we need to encourage new ways of planning neighborhoods. Instead of building another monolithic suburban neighborhood, let’s encourage creativity in our urban centers. Build affordable housing that encourages economic diversity in one neighborhood. Create community gathering spots where diverse people can connect with each other. Invest in urban neighborhoods without allowing gentrification to happen.
Ultimately our children are the hope of our country. As parents we need to encourage our children to develop relationships with those who are different ethnically and economically. We need to open up their eyes to how others think and feel. They will be the ones to form the neighborhoods and communities of the future.
The answer to making America great again is not Perry, Palin or even Obama. We are the answer. Stop pointing a finger at Washington and realize that each of us has caused this mess. We have the power to change our current political climate by changing how we view our relationships.