A Common Task

Listen to the voices of people who wrote this past week in this space, and those who responded with their comments and an unmistakable message about society can be heard: we must step forward and focus on our values. People are telling us something important: we have lost sight of the values that bind us together. Sure, there are differences among us; but those differences, as one writer said, mustn’t lead to disintegration. Nor must they lead us to believe that we do not hold in common certain fundamental values from which we can build a common future.

I am now completing my upcoming book on Americans’ views on politics and public life, and it is clear from my travels across this nation that it is our common values that people want to talk about. They want to rediscover such values; what they mean; and how we can act together on them

People want greater truth and forthrightness in our society, loyalty and trust; they want more emphasis placed on values of social fairness and personal responsibility; they want values of community and individual control to be in greater play.

The desire for these values can be heard universally from people throughout the nation. And as you listen to people, you cannot tell whether someone is a Republican or Democrat, or if they attend church or not; nor can you determine the region of the nation from which they hail. And yet these are the neatly packaged divisions that are used daily to separate us from one another.

Each of us must step forward to engage in public life and to repair the breach that stands before us – and we must use our common values in this pursuit. We must make this a personal endeavor and a common task.

One of our writers, Pam Loving, is such a person. The Harwood Institute is working with Pam in Flint, Michigan to help strengthen that community. She has built an awe-inspiring community-based organization to help individuals and families help themselves. The Career Alliance is a major force for change in Flint, and Pam has gathered around her an amazing network of staff, supporters, neighbors, funders, and others to tap into and express their common values.

Pam’s work is not for the feint of heart. Flint is a beat up town, down on its luck. It’s hard to make progress, much less see any. Many of us may never have the opportunity to build such an organization. But all of us can follow in Pam’s footsteps in our own way.

In this book that I am finishing, I write about the importance of ordinary heroes in our lives. Pam is a hero of mine. Here, I am not referring to those individuals who undertake superhuman tasks, but rather those among us, like Pam, who step forward and find ways to exercise the values we hold in common.

Let me know where you see people stepping forward and exercising such values.