We’ve Lost Our Commonality and Natural Connections

Before I begin, here are some factors in my lens of the world: gay, husband, father of several adopted children, progressive liberal, fiscal moderate, believe refugees and immigrants are good for the U.S., educator, believe in family, think children need to be told no and awards/trophies should be earned, women have the right to control their bodies and earn equal pay, climate change is real and humans play a huge factor in affecting climate, dogs are the best (and cats are okay too).

This past fall, while attending a band contest, the national anthem was about to play. Before starting, and I’ve heard this many times before, the announcer asked everyone to stand and please remove hats. For some reason it struck me as sad people needed to be reminded to remove hats. When I was younger this was never the case, we just knew to take it off and remain silent if not singing along. Most people sang along back then.

My brain will dwell and reflect on things for a long while. It tries to make connections or meaning of what is happening around me. When reading a couple of Simon Sinek’s books recently (thanks Shaun), I connected my thoughts at the contest to something Sinek said.

In Finding Your Why, Sinek essentially talks about how, when American’s meet in a place that is not a normal context, such as travel overseas, if we see a fellow citizen we immediately hit it off. We ask where each other are from, how long in town, and usually have a good conversation, sometimes even hanging out for the remainder of a trip. We do this because of our commonality of having a shared culture and similar general beliefs. Our tribe has been found. After the trip we may never see one another again, but we will also remember meeting these strangers in a foreign land.

As I observe my world around me, in our everyday routines, we have forgotten as a society, our commonalities. Our shared experiences include the Star Spangled Banner, the Pledge of Allegiance, K-12 education, belief in upward mobility, self-reliance, and a wish for happiness and success in our lives—regardless of politics or religious affiliation. But, we seem to have forgotten how to tap into this commonality.

As an educator, who has worked in several states, it is my humble experience, our commonality is not being taught in our schools consistently. I am in no way placing blame on educators (I lay blame at the feet of politicians and standardized testing), but generally speaking, we are complicit. Students aren’t being taught how to sing the national anthem or any song we all used to know (e.g., America the Beautiful, God Bless America, This Land is Your Land, You’re a Grand Old Flag, My Country ‘Tis of Thee). We aren’t having students memorize or deconstruct the Preamble of the Constitution or fully examine the Bill of Rights. Mock voting has gone away so as not to offend anyone or having to have the tough political conversations in today’s political climate. Current events usually cover “safe” topics. Geography takes a back seat to those things that count on the test being used to label one’s school.

Parents aren’t teaching their children respect: to respect them, adults, educators, police, politicians, journalists, or how differences are okay. Totally understandable depending on one’s life experience. Adults are horribly abusing children, police are doing despicable things to those they have sworn to protect, politicians care more about themselves and re-election, journalists are now entertainers, and educators are being told to worry more about standardized test scores than about children. However, parents should know better than to drop the f-bomb every two words in a school setting, children are not perfect angels, teachers should be supported rather than attacked for grades students have earned, voting is vital and no one is better than anyone else regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or a plethora of the things that make us human.

And lastly, the entertainment and media industries help to downplay our commonalities and emphasize disrespect. Most movies drop the f-bomb, promote cursing in general and highlight stereotypes. TV does very similar things, especially the news. Visual media and language used are important. Entertainment and media have great power to shape a nation now. However, it seems they squander their power for profit and divisiveness over the common good.

What it boils down to, is we all have a role to play in making our country better, or worse. We can help lift us all up, or lift just the rich up, or keep the downtrodden down. Politicians and entertainment/media are going to do what they are going to do. We can either vote those who don’t care about us out of office, or we can keep them in because we are afraid of the unknown. We can continue to go to a movie violently highlighting stereotypes, or we can see one highlighting the good in us all, or even just stay home. We can call out lies and deceit from media, or say nothing allowing it to continue, or turn the channel, go to a different website, or don’t buy the publication.

In the end, we, yes we, get to choose, to fight for something better, or allow things to continue as is. We can write school boards and legislators saying we want to see civics as a required course in schools, we want patriotic songs as part of the curriculum, and that diversity is taught for the good of the commons.

Society is us, we are society. We the people really can make the difference.

What will you do to support the common good, to live the Founding Fathers ideal of all being created equal, we all deserve happiness, and we all deserve a good life and liberty?

What will you do and when will you do it?

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