June 15, 2016  |  Insights

A House United – Reaching across the chasms that divide us

In an increasingly divided world, it’s always heartening when humanity rises to the challenge, and people do their part to bring us back together. At the Family Independence Initiative, we’re finding more and more families coming together in clubs and gatherings to support one another, and this week, the vice chair of our board, Diana M. Smith, is launching a series of pot luck suppers aimed at bringing folks together from across the political and economic spectrum to learn about the dreams and challenges we all face while raising our families. As you’ll see from her article below, it’s the kind of action any of us can take, and in taking it, help turn the tide on divisiveness.

Diana M. Smith, Ed. D., Vice Chair FII Board

A House United

Reaching across the chasms that divide us

“We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.”
– David Brooks, New York Times, 04-29-16
Nothing like visiting Gettysburg and Antietam to remind you how quickly and how foolishly states united around the proposition that all people are created equal can become a house so divided it threatens its very foundation.
Last week I came away from those battlefields haunted by a few words spoken there five months after thousands of men gave their lives there:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Us the living: That means you and me. But just how are we supposed to ensure our democracy doesn’t perish in a time of ever-widening economic disparity and an election cycle dedicated to advancing the interests of some by appealing to the fears of all.

It’s hard to fathom. Yet it is a task from which we cannot shy.

And the urgency has never been greater. In a New York Times Op-Ed piece, Thomas B. Edsall draws a picture of a house crumbling under the forces of isolation:

The well-to-do are isolated from the day to day struggle of the middle class and below to provide key services (health, education, job search, and other opportunities) to aid the upward mobility of their children…. For the top, the separation from the middle and lower classes means less understanding and sympathy for the majority of the electorate…. For those at the bottom, (it) means bad schools, high crime, high unemployment and high government dependency. (These trends) are undermining cohesive politics, but more important they are undermining social interconnection as they fracture the United States more and more into a class and race hierarchy.

Right now, this fragmentation is aiding and abetting the most disturbing election in American history. This makes it all the more urgent that we the people, not the government, find a way to do what New York Times columnist David Brooks suggests: Rip ourselves out of our increasingly narrow circles and reach across the chasms that divide us, even if it’s uncomfortable.David Brooks’ one activity is to dedicate his column to doing that over the coming years. Mine is to host a series of potluck family suppers for parents across the economic and political spectrum. At those dinners, I will draw on my background as a family therapist, leadership advisor, and organizational consultant to create a safe context in which parents can inspire, support, and learn from one another about their dreams and challenges. Afterwards, if they’d like, they can stay connected through a social networking website created by the Family Independence Initiative called UpTogether, where families provide one another the inspiration, connection, and support they need to realize their dreams.

Since families are the bricks upon which our democratic home will endure or crumble, I can think of no better place to start. What’s more, potluck suppers cost nothing and offer a great return, especially since I plan to report on what we’re discovering. I suspect these reports from the field will debunk the myths that fuel fragmentation, while uncovering common ground upon which to rebuild.

Ultimately, my biggest hope is that this small idea will inspire you to do something that contributes to rebuilding our divided home.

In any case, that’s my one activity. What’s yours going to be?
Diana M. Smith, Ed. D.
Vice Chair of the Family Independence Initiative Board
Founder and President, Actionsmith Network
Author, The Elephant in the Room, Divide or Conquer, and Action Science

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