My first blog post, reflecting on the writings of William James and Chris Hedges, has generated a response, in the form a helpful comment. How does my essay relate to the reality of today? Is there a new paradigm for a meaningful life? What trends are out there to explore?
For me, we are in the midst of a Jamesian evolutionary shift, a re-thinking of who we are as individuals and as communities. I am troubled by the post 9/11 view of the world, with the political ‘hunkering down’ of nations. We can see the tightening of borders, listen to demonization of ‘the Other’ and feel the impact of jingoist nationalism to focus energy. And yet, people are critiquing these structures that have long held societies in place, such as the military or national governments or religion. Activists, policy makers, and academics offer up alternatives; shifting from narrow views of human collectivity to unusual alliances. If there were ever a time to think outside of the box, this is it.
Some examples to consider: General Stanley McChrystal, looking beyond the military, is part of the Franklin Project, advocating for a year of service for all young people in the US. He is clear that being in the military should not be the only way to serve the country. Time Magazine has several recent articles on that and the continuing work of the Aspen Institute and civic engagement. Benjamin Barber, in a recent TED talk, considers getting beyond nation-states by looking at cities and the collaborations they can form. New York is more similar in its needs to Tokyo or Paris or Singapore, so collaboration can be more dynamic. Cities are by their very nature, multicultural, participatory and democratic, perfect for innovative projects. The National Conference on Citizenship has excellent research which gives us a ‘civic health index’, a way to look at service as part of being a robust and health community. And, the Corporation of National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps programs, recently published a study indicating a demonstrated positive correlation between volunteering and the mental and physical health of individuals.
We have innovative alliances in our own communities and cities; we can be the change that is needed and make a commitment to service, civic engagement and volunteer work. I encourage folks to start wherever they would like, in terms of research, history or action. Reading essays or following the research trends gives context, historical perspective or access to new ways of viewing the world. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, we make meaning through our own lives, experiences, and reflections. We make our path by walking. Have a lovely journey, and please, send me an email, so I know how it is all going!
Barbara Bixby is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Maine Commission for Community Service.