We are in the midst of a major loss in social capital. I am no economist, nor am I a sociologist - but I would assert from my limited understandings that in this framework, we are in the midst of a kind of recession. In my own community, I see declining involvement in service clubs. A decrease in volunteerism overall. Certainly, this is not news. Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone is more than 5 years old now, but still provides a useful overview of the phenomenon. For a more searing view on the issue, watch the movie Crash. The first lines of the movie say it all:
It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.
I may not be in L.A., but I can identify with that sentiment. We over-rely on the idea of self-reliance. Now, I'm divorced, and my ex and I share placement of our daughter 50/50. I also work full time as an executive director, in addition to being a part time commuting graduate student. My life moves fast, and I'm seldom in one geographic space for very long. I'm certainly guilty of a "go it alone" mentality, as much as I believe otherwise.
I work in a nonprofit agency that helps survivors of domestic violence move towards healing. For years, we have used the watchwords of "independence" and "self-sufficiency." Certainly, these are important for someone whose days and nights have been focused around decoding the whims of another. In the face of fragmented relationships that are the result of domestic violence, perhaps we should also consider how healthy networks of interdependence can be just as important. Check out this post on StreetProphets that picks up a theological conversation about relational power and dominion theology.
(By the way, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Wear a purple ribbon. Do you know how to contact your local domestic violence agency? What about its 24-hour crisis line? Do you know any of the signs of domestic violence? It's worth thinking about.)
This insidious trend of separation sneaks up everywhere. It even came up in one of my classes recently. In the course of his presentation, a classmate asked his audience to reflect upon the most recent table around which they shared a meal. More detail: a meal that involved people not in their immediate family. I had to search my mind for a while to remember when that shared meal might have been. So when the time for comment came up, that was my first thought. In the course of trying to connect with his audience, my fellow student may have distanced a significant percentage of people who couldn't identify with the phenomenon of a shared meal. Prove me wrong! Comment, and tell me about your most recent shared meal.
I look at the ways our political discourse and civic life cooperate to separate us from each other, and realize that this is truly not a course that we should pursue. I believe that the life of faith requires that we build community rather than focus on categories and divisions. A first step? Sitting at table together, and sharing your stories. Whom will you invite to dinner?
PS, on a related note: Kudos to one of my CTS classmates on this recent post addressing compassion and "wedge issues". It's not about the issues, it's about the people! If you're interested in thoughtful progressive takes on politics and economics, visit Fragmentary Theology often. It's well worth the read.