At the heart of our pervasive crisis of alienation are widespread failures of responsibility, deep-seated cultural divisions and a deadly dearth of solidarity. Such challenges can seem impossibly immense when we look at our country from the top down. No president could resolve them, no Congress could address them. But from the bottom up, there are more opportunities to take them on.
That’s not because there is some magic to local action. It’s because what has broken down is fundamentally communal and institutional, so that a recovery of the ethos required for our national politics to function is likely to happen closer to the interpersonal level.
It can begin with a simple question, asked in little moments of decision: “Given my role here, what should I be doing?” As a parent or a neighbor, a pastor or a congregant, an employer or an employee, a teacher or a student, a legislator or a citizen, how should I act in this situation? We ask that question to recover relational responsibility.
A failure to ask that question — and so to accept the obligations that come with whatever positions and privileges we have in our lives — is behind many of the most significant problems we face. It’s why so many of our fellow Americans have been left feeling that our institutions have failed to treat them like human beings.