Is The U.S. Really in A Pickle?

This 4th of July, Young Americans Want More Independence and Inter-Dependence

Despite our many problems and differences, there’s a lot to celebrate and be thankful collectively in this country, on this day… and most others, for that matter.  In recognition of that same notion, the recent launch of Community Corps comes from the hope and belief that, while many are concerned about the direction our country has taken, we also actively seeking ways to revitalize America’s civic culture and the opportunity inherent in the American experiment, for everyone.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, community and “community-mindedness” are actually key tools to preserve the hard-won gains of our quest for individual liberty and fulfillment. But with all the identity-focused impulses in play in the U.S. and around the world, it is equally important to recognize that what we are or should be all about is pluralism, that state of being where multiple groups, principles, ideas and ways of living can coexist.

As another nod to this critical need from someone we might not expect (at least the American “we), Shia Imam Aga Khan IVsays it well, “Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development; it is vital to our existence.” We see every day the phrase e pluribus unum – “out of many, one”-  printed on nearly every form of  U.S. currency. To be fair, many would simply disagree with this sentiment, and it would be wrong to assert they don’t have any facts to support that point of view.

Yet we DO have shared set of values, a shared culture, and common things we care about and want as country and as communities. Multiple reports from More In Common look at the underlying drivers of polarization to help build more united, resilient and inclusive societies. They report that in the U.S. there are not so much two parties as there are 7 ‘hidden tribes’, most with significant overlap in how they view things and are willing to work together.

Community Corps is about building a stronger sense of citizenship and community among emerging adults through shared experiences and service that aim to overcome social, political, and cultural division. In a recent snap survey (to be followed by more), we polled roughly 125 younger U.S. adult citizens across race, gender, and class. Our goal was to find out more about how they see the state of the country, as well as their opportunities, challenges and identity as citizens.

Here’s what they had to say…

  • Nearly 70% of young U.S. adults say, “it is important to be an active and engaged member of my community.” Over 65% say “spending more time with people in person, instead of virtually, interests me.”
  • Over 75% agree that “U.S. society would benefit from more effort and opportunities to develop a greater sense of citizenship and community.”
  • The majority – 75% – say they would be interested in a program like Community Corps, which aims to provide an opportunity over 6+ weeks in the summer for them to be with people their age from different backgrounds for shared learning experiences and interaction.

The model of Community Corps is part boot camp, part civics training and part, well, “summer camp” with all the bonding and activities that go with that. Among the various program elements are training and learning around…

  • life skills, defined in traits like critical thinking, cooperation, personal responsibility
  • physical & mental fitness, defined as strength, endurance, flexibility…”toughness”
  • civic awareness, defined as understanding of U.S. founding principles, government and culture
  • vocational/career education, defined not as specific job skills but as help “finding your path”

While all of these ideas registered with over half of the respondents in every case, among these 4 program elements, young Americans we heard from felt that “life skills” were most important, with nearly 75% of respondents ranking them at the top of their list.

And when it came to identity, the #1 label they put on themselves over all others was “American”. Other important ways in which they thought of themselves were by their work-societal role (e.g., “I’m a student”) and by their race or ethnic group. Respondents emphasized these three over other forms of identity, including political party, religion, gender or age/generation. But again, 43% saw themselves as Americans first, whereas the next “leading identity” chosen was almost 10 percentage points lower.

That should be very interesting to those of us who constantly hear otherwise in the national news outlets and through the wide range of online media to which we are all constantly exposed (yes, FaceBook we’re talking to you too). Americans are a real thing, with a real set of commonly held beliefs, values and ways of looking at the world.

To quote another spiritual luminary, the late and legend Southern Country-Rock musician Charlie Daniels singing In America:  “You just go and lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan and I think you’re gonna finally understand.” While I hope we don’t have to fight the Russians to bring ourselves together, his point is that people from all over the U.S. do have an interest in and sense of community with each other.

The overarching take-away from our initial research is that there is indeed interest and appetite for Community Corps and the things it represents among our “target customers” – young Americans (and I’d guess many older ones too!) who want to interact, get to know each other, and contribute in and among their wider community.

So let’s make it a straight and easy path.

That is the purpose behind the founding and growth of Community Corps.

And that’s worth celebrating on this Interdependence Day.

 

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