Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
R. R. Reno, the editor at First Things Magazine, an intellectual journal exploring religion and public life, offers some intriguing thoughts this month in his article “Common Good Conservatism.” In the first section, Reno focuses on the terrible rift in American society today between the sides of the political spectrum where both feel “under assault”, “inflamed” and “on edge”.
Sides disagree vehemently on economics, equality and immigration. Disagreements are fueled for political gain by villainizing anyone in opposition to one’s views. Reno sees the solution, not as agreement or the victory of one side over the other, but the desperate need in our society to restore solidarity.
He writes solidarity has “weakened dramatically over the last generation. The collective “we” have become remote and inaccessible…The threat is magnified by the blindness of our political establishment. It can only see threats to inclusion (left) or threats to freedom (right). Our task, therefore, should be to promote a politics of the common good, one that seeks to repair the fabric of our society.”
This belief in solidarity is a powerful one. When a population holds and practices solidarity, the littlest among them begins to matter.
Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.”
At the Hughson Community Thanksgiving Dinner, I pressed Pastor Tim for great interview quotes regarding community. Having nothing to do with this column, I asked him to explain the value of helping the community. He pointed out, astutely, that many of the familiar faces who gather together for the many volunteer opportunities in Hughson launched by the City, the Chamber, the Citizens for a Healthy Community, the Ministerial Association, and more, do not come together just to help the community, but to build community.
These small towns go beyond the events of the big city because we are living these ideas of solidarity. You may not see it on Facebook and you may not see it on Next-door. On the social media platforms, personhood is reduced to words and opinions. It takes a bit of imagination to remember all the other views and opinions and facets of personhood the responder has. We fight words with words. They are simply words challenging my opinion. The biting begins.
Did you know that when we speak to each other face-to-face, making eye contact, that we unconsciously mimic the facial expressions of the speaker? We are wired for this social intelligence, to attend to, to feel with, to respond to the one who feels (read more in Daniel Goleman’s book “Social Intelligence”). This is sympathy, empathy, this is community. And covering these events I have heard Cindy Morphy say, again and again, this is what will keep us going as a society. Working together, we see the “other,” and in the process, we see each other.
Our small towns and our rural society provide invaluable opportunities to remember who “The Other” is, how he or she has needs, daily irritations and struggles, triumphs and tragedies. In a small town, it is harder to build an anonymous bubble around me (though not impossible) because I see my neighbor everywhere! We stretch our minds when Paradise burns because we can imagine our child experiencing what that child experiences whose home was burned to the ground. We connect closer, deeper.
There are some who never lose sight of this. They make excellent, inspirational volunteer and community leaders. It is their charism, their blue flame, and society needs them badly. When you live in a town (I write from Hughson and witness it here) where the local government gives a platform to these individuals, acknowledging that they have the power to build up society by bringing people together, then you have that thing that makes Hughson and other towns like it unique and good.
It is not perfect. Nothing is, because no people are. But we are protecting a gift lost in much of America. And as politics and social media heat with anger and the state burns, the little towns of people in solidarity will become a light to show there is something bigger, greater and more enduring than the flames of indignation we cast about us.