As another new year unfolds here in the U.S., ABC News polled our people to see who was satisfied with the direction of our nation. They found 76% of those polled to be dissatisfied. Only 23% were satisfied. They concluded that “Americans are in a sour mood to begin 2024.”
Chances are you already knew this.
And, I suppose, chances are you are among the majority who are dissatisfied.
Problem is that satisfaction in any part of life is rarely just a closed-ended “yes or no” question. Not even a scaled “1-10” question of how satisfied or dissatisfied people are gets at any real worthwhile answers. I would personally want to ask “What, if anything, are you most satisfied with? What, if anything, are you most dissatisfied with?” Asked differently, “What in America would you like to see continue on as is? What in America would you like to see changed?” Then, perhaps most importantly, “How would you maybe picture that change happening?” “What might be the very first step in making that change happen?” These are the kind of open-ended questions that explore actual solutions instead of just leaving us with a problem that we already knew existed.
In our quest to quantify information about our people, we’ve sacrificed our ability to qualify it. We’ve left out the reality of nuance. It’s as if we’ve asked a question of “black or white?” and found most people thinking, “well, it’s actually gray but since it isn’t white I’d better just say black.”
Notice I didn’t ask the question up front, “Is there hope for America in 2024?” Truthfully, I would fear your answer to that one. But I would love to understand better what hope you think there may well be for our nation in this new year?
What gives you hope? What are the possibilities?
Were you to turn that same question on me, I would say this about my own people of America in this new year. I feel hopeful because I find most Americans wanting to take personal responsibility for their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Not all, but most. Most people I know are working at something aimed at bettering their lives. They’re working to pay their own bills, to support themselves or their own families. We are a nation of mostly hard workers. We seem, and I say this as a 77 y/o still active psychotherapist but also retired clergy person, to grasp that our individual freedom requires individual responsibility. If anything, I would say more Americans may err on the side of too much personal responsibility, perhaps working too many hours in the day or night for their own good. Our favorable position in the global economy points to our industrial and productive nature. We have more than proven ourselves personally responsible.
That said, I could stand to feel even more hopeful than I do now. Having taken on, for the most part, a great deal of individual or personal responsibility for ourselves in America, I think we are still lacking in one all-important area. I think we could do better in the area of social responsibility.
Social responsibility is not a domain owned in any part of the world by Christianity, but there is a strong correlation between the teachings of Christ and the practice of such. These teachings largely originated in the context of Christ’s Jewish religion and its own laws about social responsibility. Commonly told stories of that time about Jesus Christ involved two individual men approaching him separately but with likely evidence of their own personal or individual responsibility. One, a rich young ruler, asked specifically about how he could inherit eternal life. The other, a practicing attorney, asked about which was the greatest commandment. In both of these instances and several others, Jesus placed the emphasis on their taking of social responsibility. Personal responsibility was already in tact. But that alone wasn’t enough. Jesus tacked on the social responsibility of giving all wealth to the poor, and of loving one's neighbor as self.
Given America’s partisan divide in these times, this may be the year in which each political party might come to the table emphasizing a both/and approach to the practice of responsibility. If there is one single unifying principle in all of American society, I wonder if it is not “responsibility.” Responsibility for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If such a principle and core value actually does unite us, then can we then agree that as citizens we must bear responsibility for both ourselves and others? Our and others’ lives? Our and others’ liberties? Our and others’ pursuits of happiness?
If so, then I personally have all the hope I need or could ever want for America in 2024.
What about you?