A crisis in national pride averted

  • Sen. Lou D'Allesandro speaks at the New Hampshire Scholars celebration. —Courtesy of Brennan Barnard

For the Monitor
Published: 12/18/2017 9:50:26 AM

Lately my sense of national pride has been waning. The news is filled with reports about the rise in homeless families, opioid deaths, tuition costs, sexual assault and other indicators of a country and culture in crisis.

It seems like everyone is talking over each other, and as the volume swells so does the chaos and hurt. I find it hard not to get discouraged by stories of unkindness, inappropriate behavior and lack of concern for the greater good.

Deep down, I know that American values are grounded in liberty, equality, opportunity, justice, democracy, diversity and unity; it’s just that recently it has been hard to feel pride that we are living true to these values.

But there is hope.

Last week, as I drove to a celebration for the New Hampshire Scholars program, I listened to the news and wondered how we as citizens had arrived at the place where we are. I could not help but reflect on what it means to be patriotic. Are we showing love and devotion to each other and to our republic or are we operating in silos of personal agendas?

My consternation was immediately quieted, as I walked into the room full of educators and business leaders. We were gathered to honor the companies and organizations in the state who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to providing internships, mentorship and partnership to high schools where New Hampshire Scholars are learning and exploring. While perhaps we worry about education funding and debate the impact of vouchers or school choice, these individuals and organizations are taking steps on a local scale to make a difference.

As the ceremony began, the chairman of our N.H. Scholars Advisory Board, state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, stepped to the podium to offer a welcome. This is a man for whom I have enormous respect: a former educator who has served the people of New Hampshire for more than four decades. From the streets of Manchester to the woods of the North Country, he is a champion of the underdog and epitomizes dedication to the public interest. His words struck me as he greeted the attendees at the event with a simple invitation to, “have a great, great American day.”

It is easy to default to a place of despair at the headlines and to be ashamed of the national discourse or policy decisions. But we have the choice as to how we approach each and every day. Will we make it great or will we wallow in what we wish was different? How will we define what it means to be an American and how will we honor that privilege? D’Allesandro’s message was a reminder that being an American can be a grassroots experience, requiring collective action from the bottom up, to both speak truth to power and to harness the power of our immediate truth. Each day we can choose to either create a groundswell of kindness, engagement and pride, or shutdown, detach and live in discomfort at the uncertainty.

So what might this groundswell look like at the local level?

We can start by listening and not just to what we want to hear. Listen to the complexity of a debate and seek to truly understand another perspective and the context from which that approach germinates.

We can form unlikely partnerships, whether it is local politicians sponsoring legislation together or a small business connecting with high school students. It could even mean collaborating with a neighbor to pick up roadside debris. The point is, it doesn’t have to be worthy of a headline or incredibly time consuming.

What are ways, you might build unity or goodwill? This could involve donating money to a local cause, but it could just as easily mean introducing yourself to someone you see regularly (at the gym, grocery store or coffee shop) and learn something about that individual.

Likewise, fostering equity and justice does not require a badge or an elected office, it might be as simple as writing a letter or challenging a misogynistic comment made by a coworker.

The holiday season is upon us, and it is often a time when we witness acts of kindness and concern.

On Thanksgiving day, the Windmill Family Restaurant in Concord rallied employees and volunteers to provide meals at the restaurant, and through delivery, to the homeless and others in need as they have done for almost two decades. This year they cooked 68 turkeys and served 150 donated pies while a small army of family and friends prepared, packaged and produced over a thousand dinners.

As Christmas approaches, we see bell ringers for the Salvation Army, toy drives and opportunities to serve our community. These gestures of outreach are inspiring and truly representative of the American spirit.

A great, great American day, however, does not just happen at the holidays. We have the opportunity, or perhaps the responsibility, to approach each new day with dedication to bettering our lives and those of our family, friends and neighbors. Rather than despair at the enormity of our cultural dysfunction we must cultivate pride for our national identity by engaging with each other and choosing to be great and do good.

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