The daily headlines read how divided the nation has become. The idea of civil discourse has become harder to achieve. Why? I propose it is a lack of a common, unifying experience.
We have lost that which makes us united: service to others for the collective good.
Service is defined as helping others. It can be a simple gesture or a calling. Service to others is rewarding and can be done in a volunteer capacity or a in a paid position. The idea of helping others is firmly rooted in our communities but it is not practiced but by a few.
One example in our more rural communities is the volunteer fire and rescue departments. Many struggle to recruit and retain new members while the current cadre gets older. Part of this challenge is a result of rural population decline, lack of local employment, funding, generational transition, and a decrease in community service emphasis. Many areas of our country depend on the volunteer system to provide emergency services; an essential service.
Another is the military where about one percent of our citizens serve the nation in the Armed Forces. Traditionally, serving in the Armed Forces was the clearest example of service. For those that chose that route they gained a common experience of serving someone or something other than themself. Yet, it is estimated that only 30% of our eligible population is fully qualified to enter the military and the requirement for military service ended in the mid-1970’s.
While such a small percentage of our citizens defend the other 99%, we are equally challenged in feeding our nation where only one percent of our citizens are farmers. In the book Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf, describes how agriculture conjoined our founding fathers in a common, vital endeavor. While not all where soldiers, all were agriculturalists stepped in the academics of farming. A Common Experience!
Whether it is the shared experience of basic training, the relatable challenges of agriculture, or another program, all citizens must relearn the benefits of serving others. Common experience is the departure point for civil discourse and, ultimately, problem solving. Our communities and our nation need it.