We're looking at the results of an interesting recent poll that revealed that the majority of Americans believe the country is better off now than it was four years ago, but a majority of those same Americans (same poll) believe they are personally worse off now than they were four years ago. Yesterday, we asked what this means about how we, individually, relate to the whole, the community, and how it is that we can feel so disconnected from others around us that we don't believe their goodness is our goodness.
Today, we'll ask another, also important question: How can we let this happen?
How is it that we, as the community, have let individuals fall through the gaps? How is it that we have created ourselves collectively in a way that has not benefited the many parts of our whole? How is it that we find ourselves in a world where things are getting better for everyone and more miserable for many at the same time?
Part of it, I think, has to do with something we discussed several weeks ago - the overemphasis on individuality. We are living in a world that has convinced its persons that they are wholly unique, that their life experience is entirely different from everyone else's. We have convinced them that no one can understand them, that no one even cares to, and that the things that they are going through are completely unique to them. We've said this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to give everyone permission to be exactly as they are without expecting any meaningful growth or change (which in our day is labeled 'oppressive' as an expectation), and so we have created an entire generation of persons who feel like they don't belong here. Like they can never belong here. Like there is nowhere on planet earth that will ever understand them. They will always be outsiders, and so when we ask them about the community, they feel like outsiders in it. It's easy for them to say yes, the world is getting better, but at the same time, their lives are not because they are not part of this world.
That's important. We cannot overlook the way in which our overemphasis of individuality has led to the dis-incorporation of persons into communities. However, we cannot say that this is the only contributing factor to this kind of disconnect, either.
We have to consider whether our communities themselves might be disenfranchising in some way. We have to consider whether there is something systemic built into the ways that we do life together that keeps individuals on the fringes of that.
Of course, we know that there is. We know that none of our experiences in this world, no matter how much we try, are thoroughly inclusive. We keep trying, but we aren't there yet. And look, I know that this is a hot-button political issue right now - "systemic injustice" - and I really don't want to get into politics. But when we see a majority of persons who say that they're feeling disconnected from the community, that the community's good is not their good, then we have to ask why that is. And we have to consider whether or not it has to do with the ways that we set up our communities. The details of that, in your particular place and time, you'll have to think about for yourself.
What I want to offer here is a suggestion that I think can help us start to bridge this gap. And it's so simple, but not entirely easy (which is probably why we don't do it faithfully already).
Often, when we are planning things, when we are putting things together, we are thinking about the kinds of persons we want to engage with our end product. We are thinking about the kinds of persons that we want to include. We are thinking about what it will be like for those who choose to come and partake. We are thinking about what it will be like for us as we come and partake and what we want to experience of it.
But what if, instead of thinking of who we want to attract, we think about who won't be able to join us? What if we start thinking not about who our plans draw in, but who they leave out? Who is what we're doing impossible for? In what ways are our plans unwelcoming or even unnavigable for someone else? Instead of always thinking about who we are including, we need to start thinking about who we are excluding, whether intentionally or by our own carelessness (that is, having not thought about them at all). This is the way that we start changing our communities and making them accessible. This is how we start getting persons plugged in. This is how we bring that majority inside the circle and get them to be part of something, and when they are part of it, it becomes part of them. All of a sudden, what is happening here is happening for them, too, and the good of the community is the good of the person.
We don't think about this often, but we need to. We absolutely need to. Because in case you've forgotten what we're talking about here, a majority of persons among us feel so disconnected from our communities that what is good for all of us is not good for them. The fruit growing in our streets is not growing in their home. And that's a problem for all of us.
The solution begins with considering how, perhaps, we're contributing to it.
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