Monday, January 19, 2009

Community is the "New Deal"

"Today, we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships."
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt - (penned the day before he died in 1945 to his best friend, Winston Churchill.)

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As a follow up to last week's piece on the importance of "gatherings" for stress relief, I cannot help but comment on the national "coming together" of our nation over the weekend; celebrating Martin Luther King Day as a transformed National Day of Service, as well as the jubilant celebrations as our new leader is being sworn in on this historic day. Wow. Spielberg couldn't have ordered up a more fantastic scene.

One of the most inspiring and unexpected possibilities of Barack Obama's election is the reestablishment of a sense of community in our country. During the presidential campaign, people from all walks of life donated money, registered to vote, got on the phones to canvas, and drove with their families to swing states to knock on doors. On Election Day, masses swarmed and took their tears of joy to the streets to celebrate a turning point in all our lives as our broken country had a new ray of hope. Bringing us together could be the single greatest contribution of his presidency.

It has felt so good to be a part of something greater than ourselves -- to serve. Like a southerly breeze fluffing dead sails; the winds of change are swinging away from fear and consumerism to regeneration and commonality. Our country has been asleep in a divisive rat race, and the time to cast away hedonism and embrace greater good for all is at hand. We are ready and yearning for it.

Demonstrating the simplicity and power of community has been absent from our leaders for so long. Dare we to hope it will last? I'd like to explore the subtle messages that underlie our "Obama Optimism" -- just why ARE we so excited? The First Family represents so many of the simple things we desperately need to model in our own lives; honest connections with our partners, family, friends, neighbors -- Let's check them out one by one:

Partners: In watching Barack stand with Michelle as true equals through the process, and seeing the authentic love they have for each other -- somehow the stability of their relationship deeply reassures the innocent one in all of us. Watching their signature, "knuckle high five" at the convention and their casual intimacy has made monogamous marriage hip again. 2009-01-19-fistbump.jpg


Family: America is ready to fall in love with those adorable girls, become caught up in their daily lives and wonder what type of puppy they'll get. "Family Values" has had a bum rap, and its time for a fresh face. Last week, President Obama set an example for all Fathers as he published a letter to his daughters. He said:
"When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me -- but then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation."


Friends: How about a president who body surfs and is a basketball fanatic? A man who represents a level of balance -- time to work and time to play? Life is measured in moments, not in accomplishments. The Obama's have a tight group of friends they stay connected with- for their sanity and their daughters'. Life is sweeter when shared with those who know you best - even if you are a president. Maybe we can finally extend the same conviviality to our friends in other countries, on Capitol Hill, or around corporate board rooms.

Neighbors: The Obama phenomenon has brought millions of neighbors together; united for a common cause, banded like a tribe. The residual effects of developing these relationships will reverberate far beyond the politics -- into a deeper sense of rooted-ness, into belonging and acceptance, and concrete involvement in local issues. Standing together, it is easier to inaugurate ourselves and take our own oath of commitment to service -- big or small.

The quote at the beginning of this article was from FDR, who wrote letters almost daily to his best friend, Winston Churchill. FDR helped the United States to form a sense of identity that we long to be a part of once again. He and Eleanor knitted this country together with community - fireside chats that literally brought tens of thousands of families and neighbors huddling together around a crackling radio of hope.

Community IS the "New Deal." Developing authentic relationships with those around us is the stimulus package of our collective soul.

How are you inspired by the inauguration and national commitment to service? Feel free to post you comments here, as this space offers a rich opportunity to 'gather'.

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