Civic Faith: a very good place to start
By: Sarah Goodwin Thiel, Studio Associate, Spring, 2018
At the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, one is quickly introduced to civic faith. Civic faith is foundational to the Harwood Practice. As Rich Harwood explains it, civic faith is fueled by hope and rooted in the belief that we all have an innate capacity to shape our own lives as well as the lives we share with others. This idea of civic faith gives me a place to start that I hadn’t considered before. It helps me to better recognize and claim my own wisdom and strength; to see my past contributions and to understand my consequent and ongoing obligation to the public good.
Several figures throughout history have advocated for the sensibilities surrounding civic faith. A short-list of influential people identified by Richard Harwood includes Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Ralph Ellison. Their writings speak of self-reliance and self-trust. They celebrate human potential and they advocate for collective action. I am moved by Lincoln’s lifelong belief in equal rights, his commitment to a united democracy and his unwavering empathy for ‘ordinary people.’ I am inspired by Walt Whitman and his celebration of individual worth. In his poem, “I Hear America Singing,” he embraces each voice while showing them all to be vital parts of the choir.
When people bring their individual knowledge and life experiences to a shared idea, seeds are planted. Their collective strength can spark change and better things can and will happen. I know this works because I’ve seen it happen in my own life: through inclusive goal-setting with work colleagues, civic rituals with neighborhood friends, aspirational listening and planning with family. And though deep and cutting societal issues remain unresolved and solutions are illusive, I know that civic faith, and the self-trust, community strength and hope that come with it, is a very good place to start.