This January wasn’t just the start of a new year, it was the first step to a fresh start, the starting point of a new administration, the introduction of new challenges and new opportunities, and the first chapter of a new decade – “The 20’s.”
Borrowing from the poem Invictus by William Henley, “[We are] the master of our fate, the captain of [our] own soul[s]”. This decade will be what we make of it.
As we look back to the 1920’s we can find important lessons for our budding future. Will our decade be one of false opulence and deep debauchery? Will we continue to fan the flames of inequality and division? F. Scott Fitzgerald described such mindless lavishness in the Great Gatsby: “they smashed up things and . . . then retreated back into their money . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
One lesson we’ve all painfully learned from this past year was the critical importance of connection. On one hand, we are blessed to have the technology to allow virtual dates, zoom classes, and remote funerals – but I think we all know that nothing beats the real thing. Seeing a glimmer in the eye of your dinner date or hearing a friend’s laughter beats words on a screen any day. Physical presence and human connection is an intangible and powerful force in all of our lives.
The benefits of connection and the dangers of disconnection go far beyond the social scene. Tim Carney explores the depth of connection in his (pre-2020) book, Alienated America. (Before the pandemic) he visited the packed church halls of Salt Lake City, Utah, the buzzing little league in Sioux Center, Iowa, and other cities ripe with social connection. These communities teeming with social capital and human connection saw significant positive outcomes in relationships, economic well-being, and even in the classroom. . Contrast this with the deserted union halls of Dayton, Ohio and other parts of “alienated America” and we see the deleterious effects of disconnection too. Drug abuse, poverty, and violence. This isn’t an accident and it isn’t a coincidence. When we face hard times, we need someone to lean on. When our neighbor is going through a crisis, they’ll need us too.
The only way this great “American Experiment” will work out is if we can lean on one another in hard times. Trust isn’t built overnight and it may even take years to cultivate strong relationships that sustain us when we need it most. But what’s the alternative? We saw it up close and personal as our Capital was ravaged by rioters who felt disconnected, shafted, and cheated by our system.
My hope and honest prayer for America in the ’20s is that we choose to build rather than destroy. Let’s plant seeds of trust rather than inject poison into our soil. That building starts right here on the ground level. By working to heal deep divisions and recommitting to our core institutions, we can reject a new “Gilded Age” and instead bring about a “New American Renaissance,” one that strengthens our namesake – The UNITED States of America – instead of keeping it an oxymoron.
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