I have a great, patient husband who sometimes wonders why I spend so much time on this blog 🙂 But over the weekend as we were walking to the new park we had a great talk about our community. I asked Tim to write down some of his thoughts and here is what he came up with…
Twenty years ago, I moved from my hometown of Whitewater, Kansas (population 700) to Washington, DC. My first job was with a presidential campaign, and it was enough to get politics out of my system. The “we’re the good people, they’re the bad people” narrative of electoral politics didn’t square with my observation that our two major parties have roughly the same ratio of nice people-to-jerks.
With the rise of social media, it seems like the culture wars that used to mostly exist in political campaigns have expanded into all of life. Media diversity now gives people the option to connect with those who think about the world just like they do. You can get your news from Fox (or MSNBC), get your opinions from Rush Limbaugh (or Jon Stewart) and watch Duck Dynasty (or Cosmos). The internet means that we frequently relate to each other as online personas, and we’re bound to get snippy when (inevitably) someone you “know” expresses something that you find morally repugnant. Multiply that snippiness by one hundred thousand, mix in some simplification and easily-expressed outrage, and we regularly sort ourselves into tribes wielding the “Like” button like a pitchfork. Studies demonstrate that social and political polarization are at a modern high.
I believe the antidote to polarization is community. And I don’t mean communities of the like-minded, or online social networks. I mean real, flesh-and-blood, “you-brought-me-a-meal-when-my-kids-were-sick-before-I-knew-your-position-on-fracking” community.
According to the renowned Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, this kind of community is on the wane in America. In his book “Bowling Alone,” he uses the decline of bowling leagues as a symbol of the loss of the sorts of voluntary associations through which Americans get outside of themselves. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my two decades inside the Beltway, and I especially like the people here. But it’s very easy in this area to know a lot of people but not really know many people.
Until I moved to Cheverly. When we go to my four-year-old’s soccer games we know everyone. It’s the same experience I had playing Little League in Whitewater, only we’re a mile from a powerful international city. Some of my kids’ friends were named after Christian saints, and some were named after secular saints. At the park, we see families who believe in old-fashioned gender roles alongside gay and lesbian families. I’m not here to say “Kumbaya, none of our differences matter!” Of course they do. But when we get to know people for who they are as a whole–not just the most public or obvious parts of their identity–it’s so much harder to think of them as the “other.”
Robert Putnam should come for a visit, because Cheverly somehow combines Washington, DC’s diversity with Whitewater, Kansas’ sense of community. Diversity with real community: it’s why I choose Cheverly.