The Top 10 Ways to "Live United"

Two weeks ago the United Way of America unveiled its new national branding campaign "Live United," along with a bold strategy for making an impact on education, income and family stability, and health care. I like the phrase "Live United." It's forward-looking, energetic, and reflects people's aspirations. But beyond a damn good slogan, what would these two words mean in daily life for those of us seeking to create hope and change? Here are 10 keys to living united in America. 1. We must help people in our communities to see and hear those individuals who are different from themselves, or who live in other parts of the community. At the heart of living united is the ability to see beyond ourselves so that we can begin to understand and work on common challenges, or support others who face challenges different from our own.

2.  We must root our work in the public knowledge of our community - for instance, in howpeople see and define their concerns, the values they wrestle with, the aspirations they hold for themselves, their neighbors, and their community. This public knowledge then must be used to inform the ways in which we do our work internally and the how we shape our programs and initiatives.

3.   We must act as boundary spanners in our communities, working to bring people and organizations together across real and imagined dividing lines. Too many efforts these days are fragmented, isolated, or even redundant. We must find ways to work across boundaries and leverage one another's efforts.

4.  We must focus on undertaking "galvanizing projects" - efforts that by their very nature bring people together and demonstrate that we can step forward and work collectively. In these efforts, impact is less important than galvanizing people's sense of connection and momentum. We need early wins and they must visible to everyone.

5.  We must orient ourselves toward the "public good," which in practice means seeing people as citizens not "consumers." Too often our volunteer programs become more focused on the "volunteer experience" rather than creating positive impact for communities.

6.  We must be incredibly hard-nosed about selecting the right partners to work with. Well-meaning partnerships and coalitions often die from too much talk, too little action, and overblown promises. Stay focused on who you can run with.

7.  We must not confuse our desire to imagine a better world with the need to root our work in the daily realities in which people live. False starts or false promises made because of our own hubris or fantasies will only bring about more cynicism and lead to further retreat from public life. For us to live more united demands our willingness to face up to the hard truths of reality.

8. We must tap the energy and enthusiasm of young Americans, who bring into public life a sense of tolerance, can-do spirit, and a practical bent. Thus, our challenge is to redefine "public service" for this new generation, rather than trotting out warmed-over ideas from the past.

9. We must learn to tell stories of hope and change - what might be called civic parables - so that people can see themselves in public life. But this requires us to reject the usual hype and glossed-over public relations, and instead turn to authentic reflections of people's journeys around change, including why they started out where they did, how they progressed, what went wrong along the way, and what worked. Then maybe more people will step forward.

10. We must be willing to take on enemies of the public good - enemies like inertia, cynicism, mechanized responses to human problems, false hope, distorted reality, and superficial efforts to take on real challenges. Bringing about hope and change was never easy, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that our current time will be any different.

It would be easy to translate the phrase "Live United" to mean that we all simply want to get along, that we envision a world in which disagreements and tensions do not exist. But such a vision would be naive and deny the realities of public life. For me, "Live United" is not rooted in a utopian vision. Rather, it is a call for each of us to step forward to engage with one another and to do our best to repair breaches in our lives and society. It is an entreaty to turn toward one another and make hope real.

Click here for a quick quiz to see how you stack up on the 10 Ways to "Live United"